New implementation guidance for the use of computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (cCBT) for mild mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety has been launched by the Department of Health.

The guidance is being released following the success of two demonstration sites in Doncaster and Newham, set up last May, which found that facilitating patients during online therapy sessions helped put them at ease.

PCTs are now expected to be able to offer one of two recommended cCBT programs by the end of this month.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has approved two computer based programmes for use by the NHS.

The first is Fear Fighter, developed by ST Solutions, which is a computer based package for phobic, panic and anxiety disorders. Trained support workers monitor the user as they click through nine steps of therapy to try and reassure them.

The other programme is Beating the Blues, developed by Ultrasis to help people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety. This involves a 15 minute introductory video followed by eight one hour interactive computer sessions, with homework projects and GP progress reports.

It has previously been used by the government as part of the Pathways to work scheme.

Health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, said: “Mental health services have clearly improved substantially, but we want to offer patients even greater choice over how, when and where they are treated. Being able to access the right kind of therapy, instead of just being prescribed medication, is central to this vision for patients.

“On 1 April, we will reach the first milestone in our drive to provide choice – namely quicker access to computer based self-help services to stop mild mental health problems becoming worse.”

The DH have proposed that in 2007/08, the delivery of cCBT in every PCT in England will be an important building block in the implementation of the kind of comprehensive psychological therapy service envisaged by the improving access to psychological therapy programme.

Hewitt added: “Clinical evidence confirms that counselling and therapy are just as effective as medication in helping to treat most cases of depression. The guidance being published today will give the NHS the information they need to provide these services.

“In addition to continuing to improve services for people with severe mental health problems, we are working to improve the mental wellbeing of society as a whole, and providing a real, twenty-first century service for people with common mental health needs such as anxiety and depression.”

The DH says that at any one time, one in six adults is experiencing a mental health problem. Many are common, such as mild depression and anxiety.

Dr Peter Crouch, a GP and forensic medical examiner at the Taw Hill Medical Practice, Swindon said:

“We have been using computerised cognitive behavioural therapy for over three years and the feedback by our patients is extremely positive. Our patients have found that using it has significantly helped them to better cope with anxiety, insomnia and stress.

“Using the system has amplified the ability of our award winning local psychology service in Wiltshire to provide tangible and practical help and psychological support to those who need it. Very few services are able to be delivered within a few minutes of a consultation and in the patient’s own home or at work, and anywhere else they can access the internet. As we have many patients who travel, some have logged in from halfway around the world to continue the programme of support.”