Numerous studies have documented the high prevalence of psychological and emotional disorders in patients seen in general medical settings. However, despite the emphasis placed on holistic approaches to nursing care in all professional models of nursing practice, much of this distress is still missed by nursing staff. The Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scale is an easy-to-use self-administered screening instrument purportedly designed to detect psychological distress amongst hospitalized patients with physical illnesses. On using the HAD scale on patients admitted to a coronary care ward of a district general hospital, 44% were found to be suffering high levels of anxiety or depression. This figure is consistent with the results of similar studies in other cardiac wards and out-patient clinics. In most cases, the levels of distress found were not sufficiently severe to warrant seeking specialist psychiatric support. Instead, there is much that the general nurse can do to alleviate the understandable fears and worries of patients being treated for cardiac disease. However, to respond appropriately, nursing staff must be able to identify psychological distress in patients. The HAD scale, if it can be validated in cardiac in-patient settings, provides an instrument which could easily become part of the routine assessment of patients' nursing needs.