Introduction The effectiveness of non-invasive positive pressure ventilation (NIV) in COPD patients with prolonged hypercapnia after ventilatory support for acute respiratory failure (ARF) remains unclear. We investigated if nocturnal NIV in these patients prolongs the time to readmission for respiratory causes or death (primary endpoint) in the following 12 months. Methods 201 COPD patients admitted to hospital with ARF and prolonged hypercapnia >48 h after termination of ventilatory support were randomised to NIV or standard treatment. Secondary outcomes were daytime arterial blood gasses, transcutaneous PCO2 during the night, lung function, health-related quality-of-life (HRQL), mood state, daily activities and dyspnoea. Results 1 year after discharge, 65% versus 64% of patients (NIV vs standard treatment) were readmitted to hospital for respiratory causes or had died; time to event was not different (p=0.85). Daytime PaCO2 was significantly improved in NIV versus standard treatment (PaCO2 0.5 kPa (95% CI 0.04 to 0.90, p=0.03)) as was transcutaneous PCO2 during the night. HRQL showed a trend (p=0.054, Severe Respiratory Insufficiency questionnaire) in favour of NIV. Number of exacerbations, lung function, mood state, daily activity levels or dyspnoea was not significantly different. Discussions We could not demonstrate an improvement in time to readmission or death by adding NIV for 1 year in patients with prolonged hypercapnia after an episode of NIV for ARF. There is no reason to believe the NIV was not effective since daytime PaCO2 and night-time PCO2 improved. The trend for improvement in HRQL favouring NIV we believe nevertheless should be explored further.