Epidemiological data suggest long-term oxygen therapy (LTOT) delivered by oxygen concentrators in patients with severe hypoxic chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is under-prescribed by General Practitioners (GPs) in England and Wales. One reason for this may be the unavailability to GPs of a measure of arterial oxygenation needed to fulfil the defined prescription criteria. Provision of a non-invasive measure of oxygenation may improve detection of hypoxic subjects and increase appropriate prescribing. This study aimed to evaluate pulse oximetry in a general practice setting and to screen for severe undetected hypoxaemia fulfilling the LTOT prescription criteria in patients with COPD. All COPD patients attending surgery in two practices were screened with oximeters for hypoxaemia. Those with an oxygen saturation of < or = 92% were referred to hospital for formal arterial blood gas analysis and an oxygen concentrator assessment. GPs were asked to evaluate their experience in the ease of use and application of oximetry. The number of patients receiving oxygen by concentrator before the study was compared with the national rate and the number after the study with the estimated need suggested by epidemiological studies. Over a 12-month period a total of 114 patients were screened in the two practices with a combined list size of 15,742. Thirteen patients had saturations of < or = 92%. Two refused and 11 underwent formal arterial gas analysis. Three had PaO2 < 7.3 kPa and new prescriptions for oxygen concentrators were made in these previously unsuspected severely hypoxaemic subjects as a result. One other hypoxaemic subject was referred and found to have another treatable medical condition. The initial prevalence of concentrator prescription (0.013% CI 0.003, 0.047) was similar to the national rate (0.024%) and the prevalence observed after screening (0.031%, CI 0.013, 0.073) fell within the lower suggested prescription need of previous epidemiological data (0.02-0.10%). All practitioners found the oximeters simple to use and helpful in assisting with assessment of the severity of their patient's condition. Oximetry provides a readily usable non-invasive method of screening and when applied to all COPD patients seen in general practice can reveal those fulfilling the criteria for long term oxygen who would otherwise not be identified as needing this treatment.