Understanding how European care of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) admissions vary against guideline standards provides an opportunity to target appropriate quality improvement interventions. In 2010-2011 an audit of care against the 2010 'Global initiative for chronic Obstructive Lung Disease' (GOLD) standards was performed in 16 018 patients from 384 hospitals in 13 countries. Clinicians prospectively identified consecutive COPD admissions over a period of 8 weeks, recording clinical care measures on a web-based data tool. Data were analysed comparing adherence to 10 key management recommendations. Adherence varied between hospitals and across countries. The lack of available spirometry results and variable use of oxygen and non-invasive ventilation (NIV) are high impact areas identified for improvement.