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The Department of Health has been promoting its online services through the use of the Google Adwords bidding systems.

Health minister Phil Hope said that the department spent £2,720,457.11 between 1 February 2009 and 31 January 2010, running 21,939 active search terms on Google's Adwords service, through which users bid for space on the search engine's sponsored links.

Hope refused to provide details on which search terms the department is using, due to commercial sensitivity. "In particular, the collection of the keywords the department has paid for on NHS Choices is estimated to have taken approximately one year to complete," he said on 8 February 2010, in response to a parliamentary written answer from Conservative shadow charities minister Nick Hurd.

Use of Google suggests that the department is paying for links to NHS Choices' home page to appear with generic search terms including 'health' and 'health information', and links to its smoking cessation section from 'stop smoking'.

"The Department of Health's campaigns are designed to deliver better health, whether they be to help people change their behaviours to protect their long term health, to signpost people to NHS services, or to encourage healthier lifestyles," said a departmental spokesperson. "The campaigns are evaluated using a combination of robust techniques that help us identify exactly what works, so we know that these campaigns are saving lives."

The department said that its anti-smoking marketing puts two million smokers each year in touch with NHS cessation services, and estimates that 10,000 more people have got early access to care as a result of its Act FAST campaign, which publicises the main symptoms of strokes and advocates swift action.

It added that more than 400,000 families have signed up to the Change4Life healthy living campaign, which it believes has been seen by virtually all mothers of children under 11, and which according to data from the department's commercial partners is already changing the types of food bought by families.

The DoH is also the only department so far to acknowledge that it has spent money on licensing fonts. In response to another question from Hurd, Phil Hope said the department has spent £18,112 on font licences over the past three years.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Departments of International Development, Communities and Local Government, Culture, Media and Sport all replied that they have not spent anything on font licensing in the same period.

The Home Office said "from the best available information" neither it nor its agencies have spent anything on this over the period. The Department for Work and Pensions said such information could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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