The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued a new quality standard (QS) to improve the quality of care and support for patients with anxiety disorders. 

Currently recognition of anxiety disorders is poor, particularly in primary care, and thus "only a small minority of people experiencing anxiety disorders ever receive treatment," according to the Institute. 

Moreover, even when anxiety disorders are diagnosed, in many cases treatment is limited to prescription of drugs rather than offering evidence-based psychological interventions which NICE has also recommended as first-line treatments. 

To help get the right diagnosis and treatment, NICE says if an anxiety disorder is suspected an assessment to identify a specific anxiety disorder, the severity of symptoms and associated functional impairment should be carried out.

It also advocates the stepped care model to allow the least intensive intervention appropriate for a patient to be provided first, including from the range of psychological interventions on offer, and reminds healthcare professionals that patients can step up or down the pathway according to their changing needs. 

Patients should not be prescribed benzodiazepines or antipsychotics unless there are specific clinical reasons why these treatments may be of short term benefit, the QS stresses, and says anyone receiving any treatment for an anxiety disorder should have their response recorded at every session. 

“Anxiety disorders are common, distressing and often disabling, yet people are often unaware they have a condition that can be helped by psychological or other treatment," said Professor John Cape, Head of Psychology at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust and member of the committee which developed the standards.

"The Anxiety Disorders Quality Standard makes clear to doctors and other health professionals the importance of identifying the specific anxiety disorder people are suffering from and ensuring they are offered an effective psychological treatment," he noted.