Only 3 per cent of COPD patients in England are being referred for pulmonary rehabilitation, according to the report from the Healthcare Commission, even though a third to a half of all COPD patients should be offered the treatment.
NICE guidance states that GPs should offer the therapy to all COPD patients who are functionally disabled by the condition. They should also reassess patients' need for pulmonary rehabilitation regularly.
But Dr Steve Holmes, chairman of the General Practice Airways Group, said that in many areas, pulmonary rehabilitation services were not available for COPD patients.
'In a lot of areas there is a good wait and not all patients will take up the offer. We need more services commissioned,' he said.
A third of hospitals in England do not have a pulmonary rehabilitation unit in place and, where units do exist, capacity is small, the Healthcare Commission figures show.
It now wants PCTs to improve access to the service, especially in the community.
A spokeswoman for the Healthcare Commission said: 'There needs to be greater commissioning of pulmonary rehabilitation for all patients with COPD.'
Dr Richard Russell, a consultant chest physician in Slough, Berkshire, and member of the British Thoracic Society, agreed: 'Certainly, the PCTs should put it as a priority for commissioning.'
He said that research had shown pulmonary rehabilitation to be 'the most cost-effective treatment for COPD', resulting in an average saving of £36 per patient per year.