Recent government proposals have underlined the importance of ascertaining users' views of health care. Traditionally these have been obtained through satisfaction surveys. However, researchers argue that the focus of attention should now shift to exploring dissatisfaction because it highlights more clearly any problems in lay-practitioner relationships. Research has shown that dissatisfaction is a complex social construct which is underpinned by a range of values, beliefs, attitudes and experiences. The aim of this paper is to provide insights into the meaning of dissatisfaction by exploring how dissatisfied users attribute cause, responsibility and blame for their untoward experiences. Forty-one people were identified from a household survey of user views as experiencing problems with their health care. They were interviewed in depth, and a grounded theory approach was used to construct a framework inductively from their accounts. This identified a number of normative expectations through which health work was routinely criticized; these included respondents casting aspersions on the professional integrity of health care practitioners and preserving their own moral identity through demonstrating competence, knowledge, rationality, reasonableness and concern for others. Moreover, it is argued that these patterns help practitioners to understand how dissatisfied users' perceive subsequent health care encounters.