HSE Apology Process

An apology is a genuine expression of being sorry for what has happened.  An apology is much more than an expression of regret.  It can be relatively simple to say sorry that someone has had a bad experience.  It can be much harder to say sorry for the mistakes made by the organisation. 

It is the policy of the HSE that where failures in the delivery of care to a Service User have been identified, these failures must be acknowledged to the Complainant/Service User and a meaningful apology provided.  An apology can be made by any staff member at any stage of the complaints management process, from Stage 1 (Point of Contact resolution) through to Stage 3 (Internal Complaint Review). Written apologies are recorded on the complaints management system.

Saying sorry, i.e. apologising/ expressing regret can be a key component in the complaints management process which may bring a complaint to a satisfactory resolution.   An early expression of regret or apology can minimise the possibility of a verbal complaint becoming a formal written complaint or the further escalation of a formal written complaint to independent review (e.g. review by the Ombudsman/Ombudsman for Children and/or the litigation process).

The Ombudman’s Guidance on Apologies recommends that Service Users want the following from an apology:

  • An acceptance of wrong doing;
  • Confirmation that the complainant were right;
  • An understanding why things went wrong;
  • An acceptance of responsibility;
  • Reassurance that the problem has been dealt with and will not happen again;
  • An effort to repair the relationship between both parties
  • Restoration of reputation if applicable

View - Ombudsman’s Guide to a Meaningful Apology

Key Components of an Apology

1: Acknowledgement: 

Acknowledgement of the issues raised and of the impact on the Service User.  When a complaint is first received (either verbal or written) it is important to acknowledge the issues raised by the Service User as soon as possible and to say sorry/express regret for the effect the situation has had on them. 

2: Explanation:

  • Provide a factual explanation
  • Do not speculate
  • Do not cast blame onto others

3: Apologise:

  • Should always include the words “I am sorry”.
  • Must be sincere and empathetic.
  • Must be personal to the individual and the situation. 
  • An acceptance of responsibility for the fault which has occurred.

4:  Reassurance:

  • That by making a complaint a Service User can be assured that there will be no negative impact on their ongoing care and support
  • That the issue/complaint will not reoccur.
  • That the organisation will learn from this complaint and it will inform quality improvement initiatives.

The delivery of an apology:

Saying sorry requires great care. There are many things to consider when apologising to a Complainant/Service User as follows:


The timing of the apology is critical. An apology should happen as soon as possible. This may include an initial expression of regret on acknowledgement of the complaint and a sincere and full apology at a later stage following the investigation of a complaint if the service is found to have failed in the delivery of care to the Complainant.


It is important that an apology is delivered by the right person – this may vary and will often depend on the seriousness of the event and/or the expectations of the Complainant/Service User. Some Complainants may wish the most responsible person involved in their care to apologise even if he/she was not directly involved in the events which arose.

Others may wish the person(s) directly involved in the event(s) or the manager of the service to apologise. Therefore it is important to establish the expectations of the Complainant in this regard.


Things that should be considered when choosing an appropriate setting:

  • Confidential environment
  • No disturbances
  • Mobile phones/bleeps off or on silent
  • Accessible location
  • Comfortable surroundings
  • Refreshments available
  • Consider off site if bringing the Complainant on site could cause them further distress

Specific skills in relation to providing an apology are addressed in Complaints Management Training Programmes and the online eLearning Tool at https://www.hseland.ie/