In 1983 a postal survey of the bronchoscopic practice of chest physicians in the United Kingdom produced a 90% response rate. Two hundred and thirty one physicians were carrying out bronchoscopy; they had performed about 40 000 bronchoscopies in the preceding year, 87% of these being fibreoptic procedures with topical anaesthesia. The mortality rate of fibreoptic bronchoscopy was 0.04%, with a 0.12% incidence of major complications. Transbronchial biopsy carried both an appreciably higher mortality rate of 0.12% and a major complication rate of 2.7%. There is wide variation in the use and choice of sedative drugs for fibreoptic bronchoscopy. Many of the drug combinations could be criticised on pharmacological grounds. The mean dose of lignocaine was 342 mg, most operators exceeding the usual maximum recommended dose; but adverse reactions were rare. Routine supplemental oxygen was given by only 18% of bronchoscopists. Basic resuscitation equipment was often inadequate. Radiological screening was used for transbronchial lung biopsy by 53% of respondents and significantly reduced the incidence of pneumothorax from 2.9% to 1.8%. Both the number of bronchoscopies performed and the complication rate were higher than previous estimates. Bronchoscopists should re-examine their policy on drugs and safety precautions to minimise the risks of the procedure.
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