The National Audit Office report on the Department of Health joint venture with health information provider Dr Foster does little to combat the notion that government is still feeling its way when doing deals with private companies.

The National Audit Office report on the Department of Health joint venture with health information provider Dr Foster does little to combat the notion that government is still feeling its way when doing deals with private companies.

The public accounts committee, whose chair Edward Leigh needs little excuse to savage civil servants, is likely to come down hard on the Information Centre as a result.

But why so much fuss over what is such a comparatively small sum of money? The danger is that the deal gets all the right level of attention for all the wrong reasons.

It would be a huge mistake if the relatively technical issue of competitive tendering poisoned the debate about how NHS organisations can better use its own information.

The important question is what value the contract will add to NHS services. The NAO accuses the DoH of overpaying on the deal, a charge it will have to answer.

But this involves tiny sums when compared to the real but unmeasured cost of lost opportunities for the NHS of not having good enough access to meaningful data over many years.

The NAO criticises a lack of ability by the DoH to measure benefits, as if there was a long and happy history of measuring value to patients and taxpayers in the NHS.

The report does not show that the deal was poor value for money, despite some coverage of it. It is simply too early to say, but two things are clear.

One is that the NHS was unarguably getting terrible value from its information previously, and that needed to change quickly.

Two is that the NHS should expect Dr Foster Intelligence to be able to provide evidence of a revolutionary change by the end of next year.