Background: Respiratory disease is a common cause of disability in middle and late life. Pulmonary rehabilitation programmes improve exercise capacity and quality of life in patients with chronic lung diseases. However, currently, in the UK the availability of pulmonary rehabilitation programmes and their characteristics are unknown.
Methods: We surveyed pulmonary rehabilitation programmes in terms of number, size, duration, content of educational and exercise programme, and staffing. We mailed a 17-item questionnaire previously used in Canadian study to 190 physiotherapy departments within acute hospitals in UK.
Results: One hundred and seventy-one (90%) responses were received. Sixty-eight centres (40%) run a pulmonary rehabilitation programme (99% outpatient). Mean age of subjects was > or = 70 in only seven centres (10%), though most cited no upper age limit. Ninety-nine per cent of centres incorporated exercise training. Programmes recruited a median group size of 10 patients (range 4-17) at a given time with a median duration of eight weeks (range 5-24) weeks. Most (71%) run twice per week with a duration of 2 hours (63%). Only half offered smoking cessation support, and a minority gave advice on coping with disease, travel and sexual matters.
Conclusion: Around 40% of surveyed hospitals run a pulmonary rehabilitation programme and most of the programmes are similar in their format, content and staffing. Despite the high prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)-related disability in old age most programmes chiefly included younger subjects. This may reflect lack of referral. Greater awareness and expansion of availability of programmes is indicated.