An 11% rise in complaints against GPs over 12 months looks set to prompt questions about the cutting of out-of-hours services.
Written complaints against NHS GPs and dentists in England rose from 43,942 in 2007/8 to 48,597 in 2008/9, bringing attention to the controversial 2004 GP contract – which critics say gave GPs a big pay rise as surgeries reduced evening and weekend services.
However, many GP surgeries attributed the increase to their efforts in raising patient awareness of a right to complain.
The NHS Information Centre showed a 28% increase in complaints since the government came to power in 1997/8. There were 14,866 complaints about clinical care from April 2008 to March 2009.
There were 11,003 complaints about poor communication or attitude, 7,448 complaints about GP administration and 6,045 complaints about surgery management.
However, the Department of Health said the complaints data were not representative of the picture.
A spokesman said: "All patients deserve the highest quality of care from the NHS. Where care falls below expected standards, this can be distressing for the patients concerned and their families and we expect trusts to take immediate action to ensure this does not happen again."