The Department of Health and Capita have finally signed a contract that will see the outsourcing specialists run the 'front door' to the NHS through the website

The signing coincided with an announcement that NHS Choices and NHS Direct would merge their web content so that it all appears on

Capita was appointed preferred bidder for the NHS Choices contract in July after the first developers - Dr Foster - lost their bid to extend their contract. Capita was due to start work in September but the contract was only signed yesterday. Fifty-five staff will be transferred over to Capita's employment.

The contract is worth£60m over three years and there is an option to extend for a further two years.

An NHS Choices spokesman said the decision to integrate the content of the two separate organisations followed concerns about "duplication and public confusion".

The announcement came as Dr Foster prepared to launch its own free online hospital guide that it claims will contain more comprehensive and up-to-date information about hospital activity and performance than NHS Choices.

Its Good Hospital Guide - due to be launched on Monday - will allow patients to compare hospital performance for a range of common procedures and by patient postcode.

Dr Foster chief executive Tim Kelsey said he hoped the site would help "push the boundaries" of what the DH and NHS published themselves. "If projects like this can encourage the publication of more data, that's good," he said.