Doctors and nurses should be honest when things go wrong and "say sorry" to patients, according to the health secretary.
New guidance has been issued to hospitals that Jeremy Hunt hopes will help end the "closed and defensive culture" in parts of the NHS.
"We want to see an open NHS culture that focuses on safety and learns when things go wrong," he told the Daily Telegraph.
"Saying sorry and supporting patients and their families when they have experienced harm is a really important part of this. It's great to see staff being supported to do the right thing.
"Sadly, under the last government a closed and defensive culture developed in parts of the NHS. We are transforming this culture through a new transparency drive in our hospitals."
The guidance sent to every hospital in England and Wales by the NHS Litigation Authority suggests staff are reluctant to apologise because they fear admitting legal liability or making the situation worse.
However, the four-page leaflet makes clear that "saying sorry is the right thing to do" in all circumstances when there are failures of patient care.
"Poor communication may make it more likely that the patient will pursue a complaint or claim," it says.
"It is important not to delay giving a meaningful apology for any reason. It is also essential that any information given is based solely on the facts known at the time.
"Healthcare professionals should expect explain that new information may emerge as an investigation is undertaken, and that patients, their families and carers will be kept up to date with the progress of the investigation."