Pulmonary rehabilitation is widely available in North America and parts of Europe for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Here, we describe the feasibility and benefits of providing a comprehensive but cost effective pulmonary rehabilitation programme in a U.K. district general hospital. Two hundred and sixty-seven patients with respiratory disability were referred for pulmonary rehabilitation. Patients were assessed and recruited onto a 7 week outpatient-based pulmonary rehabilitation programme including elements of exercise and education without longer term maintenance. Exercise performance was measured by the shuttle walking test and a treadmill endurance test, and quality of life as measured by two disease specific questionnaires, the Breathing Problems Questionnaire and the Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire. Of 267 patients referred between 1993 and 1996, 132 (110 with COPD) have completed rehabilitation and could be evaluated. For all graduates, shuttle distance increased by 58 m (27%) and treadmill endurance time increased by 15.9 min (294%). The Breathing Problems Questionnaire proved sensitive to changes in quality of life in some domains. The Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire showed significant improvements in all domains in a sub-set of 57 patients who completed it. Longer term follow-up of 49 patients at a mean of 10.3 months following pulmonary rehabilitation revealed that previous gains in exercise performance and quality of life were maintained with improvements in shuttle walking distance of 33 m (14% over baseline) and endurance time of 16 min (280% over baseline). The Breathing Problems Questionnaire showed no overall change but the Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire showed continued improvement in a small number of patients. We therefore concluded that a short outpatient based pulmonary rehabilitation programme without a maintenance element has produced significant gains in exercise performance and quality of life for 132 patients at a district general hospital in the U.K.