The National Audit Office is planning a value for money study of the controversial joint venture between the Health and Social Care Information Centre and Dr Foster.

The National Audit Office is planning a value for money study of the controversial joint venture between the Health and Social Care Information Centre and Dr Foster.

The NAO study, due for completion later this year, will focus on whether the investment by the HSCIC offered good value for money and whether the transaction was conducted fairly.

In February, HSCIC invested£12m in a joint venture with Dr Foster, giving it a 50 per cent share of a new company, Dr Foster Intelligence.

The partnership was endorsed at its launch by health minister Lord Warner, who said the 'creative' partnership would 'help to establish an information market which will empower managers, frontline staff and the communities they serve'.

Primary care trust chief executives questioned whether it meant Dr Foster was the Department of Health's preferred information provider, a point that was denied vigorously.

One chief executive welcomed news of the NAO's inquiry: 'Dr Foster Intelligence has done an extremely good job and there is now more interest in transactional data. However, questions remain about the extent that the partnership precludes other players.'

HSCIC chief executive Professor Denise Lievesley said: 'We are collaborating fully with the NAO and the DoH.'

Dr Foster declined to comment.

A new Dr Foster Intelligence report calls on the NHS to make more use of social marketing, which harnesses marketing techniques and concepts to achieve benefits to people rather than deliver profits. Dr Foster says this could have a profound impact on improving the health of the nation - but is not being used by the NHS.