During the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of thoracic surgical procedures carried out in the UK. The current financial climate dictates that more efficient use of resources is necessary to meet escalating demands on healthcare. One potential means to achieve this is through the introduction of enhanced recovery protocols, designed to produce productivity savings by driving reduction in length of stay. These have been promoted by government bodies in a number of surgical specialties, including colorectal, gynaecological and orthopaedic surgery. This review focuses on aspects of peri-operative care that might be incorporated into such a programme for thoracic anaesthesia, for which an enhanced recovery programme has not yet been introduced in the UK, and a review of the literature specific to this area of practice has not been published before. We performed a comprehensive search for published work relating to the peri-operative management and optimisation of patients undergoing thoracic surgery, and divided these into appropriate areas of practice. We have reviewed the specific interventions that may be included in an enhanced recovery programme, including: pre-optimisation; minimising fasting time; thrombo-embolic prophylaxis; choice of anaesthetic and analgesic technique and surgical approach; postoperative rehabilitation; and chest drain management. Using the currently available evidence, the design and implementation of an enhanced recovery programme based on this review in selected patients as a package of care may reduce morbidity and length of hospital stay, thus maximising utilisation of available resources.