Abstract Background: Despite recent advances in the management of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interventions to reduce hospitalization have had only modest success. The aim of this study was to report the outcomes of a novel, nurse-led 24-h telephone support line (hotline) for patients with COPD. Methods: Observational study of patients’ use of hotline between September 2002 and November 2004. All patients with COPD referred to a Respiratory Ambulatory Care programme over this period (n = 458) were given access to the hotline. The number and time of calls to the hotline, outcomes of hotline calls and safety of hotline, were assessed. The characteristics of hotline callers and non-callers were compared using an unpaired Student’s t-test for normally distributed variables, a 2 test for categorical variables and a Mann–Whitney test for non-normally distributed variables. Results: Over the period studied, 675 calls were made to the hotline by 118 patients and 56% of calls were made after hours. For 78 calls (12%), advice and interventions given by hotline staff averted potential 000 calls by patients/carers. Specific advice about interventions for acute exacerbations of COPD (AECOPD) was given in a further 117 calls (17%). Callers had more severe COPD than non-callers (worse lung function, lower exercise capacity and higher prescription of home oxygen, all P < 0.05). No adverse events related to use of the hotline were documented. Conclusion: A nurse-led 24-h hotline for patients with COPD is safe, is used by patients and carers and, when used, reduces hospital presentations with AECOPD.