The website NHS Choices saves the NHS £44m a year by reducing “avoidable and unnecessary consultations” an unpublished report for the Department of Health says.

The report from the Department of Primary Care, Imperial College, seen by the HSJ, makes the estimate based on a survey of 2,613 of the website’s users.

It found 37 per cent of NHS Choices visitors who used the service before deciding whether to seek a GP consultation said it had decreased their use of GP services.

It said further, unquantified, savings had probably been made by visitors able to “act on health advice offered by NHS Choices.”

Capita won the £60m, three-year contract to run the website, described as the “online front door” of the NHS, in November 2008

The report’s authors said there was scope to expand the savings they had identified.

Of 1,581 people surveyed in GP waiting rooms, 70 per cent used the internet for health and medical information but only 6 per cent used NHS Choices.

The report also recommended heavier marketing of the site to GPs and other practice staff.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Previous research by Nottingham University found the accuracy of websites such NHS Choices mean they should be recommended more widely by doctors”.

NHS Choices has roughly 80,000 pages of information and recorded 100m visits over the past 12 months.