Capita is in talks with the Department for Health over government plans to axe its NHS Choices contract, HSJ has learned.

The government decided earlier this year to temporarily transfer the running of the NHS Choices website to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The move came after the Cabinet Office ordered the DH not to grant Capita any further extension to its existing contract for the service, as had previously been an option.

Board papers discussed at the information centre’s April board meeting confirmed the government planned to press ahead with the temporary nationalisation.

However, HSJ has learned that Capita, the outsourcing firm, has taken “precautionary steps” in relation to the contract, and has since begun talks with the DH and NHS England about its future role in running the website.

There is no suggestion the decision not to extend Capita’s contract is related to performance on NHS Choices.

In a statement to HSJ, Capita said it had taken “reasonable precautionary steps to protect its position [but] following positive engagement between all parties this precautionary process has been suspended”.

HSJ revealed the plans to transfer the running of NHS Choices to the arm’s length body in February.

Under the plan, around 140 staff were set to be transferred to the information centre. The NHS Information Centre board papers said this process has already begun but HSJ understands staff are still employed by Capita.

Capita took over running Choices in November 2008 on a three-year contract worth £60m with an option to extend for a further two years, which would have finished in November 2013.

Both the DH and Cabinet Office declined to comment on the talks or when a final decision would be made.

However, a DH spokesman said: “The [NHS Information Centre] is hosting NHS Choices on a temporary basis as an interim measure, which will end when new services are procured. This is planned to happen before 31 March 2014.”

A Capita spokeswoman said: “Capita is not taking any legal action against the Cabinet Office.

“We are in discussions with the Department of Health and NHS England relating to the procedures regarding the insourcing of NHS Choices and expect this matter to be resolved equably.”

“Time constraints meant that Capita needed to take reasonable precautionary steps to protect its position while the matter was being resolved, however following positive engagement between all parties this precautionary process has been suspended.”