Patient complaints are an important source of information for service improvements. We audited patient complaints made about medical care in a National Health Service District general hospital over a 22 month period. Complaints were about medical care, nursing care, attitudes of staff, poor communication, clinical delay (9%) and hospital environment. The complaints department closed 66% complaints within 20 days. The majority of the complaints were directly related to clinical care, poor communication, attitudes of staff and nursing care. However, 99% of patients were satisfied with an explanation and an apology indicating that almost all have been due to a lack of good communication than due to real deficiencies in the clinical care. The hospital management has investigated the majority of cases within 20 days and has made several policy changes after the investigations.