'When things go wrong, we must be open about this and communicate honestly with patients and families'
HSE chief Tony O'Brien has admitted that there can be "appalling lapses" in the way patients are cared for and that these can be "hard to comprehend".
In a letter to staff, he said that the health service "too often does not deal openly and communicate honestly with patients and their families when things go wrong".
The letter, which was prompted in the wake of the harrowing experiences described by parents who lost babies in Portlaoise Hospital, urged staff to " look after every patient or client with exactly the same level of consideration that we would if they were our parent, sibling, partner or child.
"In other words, just as we would wish to be treated ourselves," he wrote, adding: "This is even more important when things have gone wrong, for whatever reason."
The letter received a mixed reaction from staff, with many angry at his failure to concede that poor management decisions and lack of investment left workers in the frontline having to work in dangerous conditions and face angry and anguished patients.
Nor is there any mention of the hardline approach taken against many patients, including those with disabled children, who are being fought all the way in their efforts to get redress through the courts.
Mr O'Brien wrote: "As we head towards a new set of health organisation arrangements and the post-HSE period, it is important that we accept responsibility for our culture, change the way we work and hold one another accountable to remain true to delivering best possible care in every setting and situation.
"When things go wrong, and in any health system this will happen, those who depend on us are at their most vulnerable. This is when they need us to care and, most of all, to show that we care by what we do.
"When things go wrong, we must be open about this and communicate honestly with patients and families.
"Far too often, it appears that this is not the case. While I am sure that these are exceptions, there are just too many of them. This erodes public confidence in health services.
"It also lets down the many dedicated and deeply caring staff who every day provide excellent care throughout the service."
Mr O'Brien added: "We must ensure that we never again hear about grieving parents being denied the opportunity to treat their dead new-born child with dignity and respect – this is everybody's right and expectation."
He insisted that the purpose of his letter was not to blame but rather to ask all health service staff to see to it that they do not add to these mistakes.