The HSE has appointed a liaison officer to deal with queries from concerned members of the public after it emerged today that a number of hospitals placed dead babies in the coffins of unrelated deceased adults for burial.

Documents obtained by RTÉ News show the so-called "tandem burials" were conducted in a limited number of hospitals up to the 1980s.

The HSE has admitted that it is possible that the families of the deceased were not informed of the practice.

A letter obtained by  RTÉ News under the Freedom of Information Act shows the then secretary general of the Department of Health, Dr Ambrose McLoughlin, was briefed about the issue on 29 August in a letter from HSE Director General Tony O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien said it was not certain that the families of both of the deceased would always have been informed of the practice.

It occurred in "exceptional circumstances" in the case of a newborn baby who died in hospital and where the other options for burial, in a hospital or religious plot, "were not selected".

The remains of the baby would then be placed in a coffin of a deceased adult.

In the letter, Mr O'Brien stated: "Our understanding is that the remains would have been placed with adult remains and that ideally the awareness and understanding of both families involved would have been sought, though this is not guaranteed."

The issue came to light during the summer when a mother contacted the HSE about her case.

Mr O'Brien stated that the practice had been confirmed by current hospital staff, particularly mortuary staff, who were employed during the period in question.

The HSE also contacted retired hospital staff, who have confirmed the practice.

Establishing the exact details of the practice has been hampered by poor record keeping by hospitals and also because some staff involved are deceased.

It is understood that the practice would have occurred in a number of cases to ensure that a baby was buried in consecrated ground.

Mr O'Brien said the HSE is currently developing a national set of standards for bereavement care in maternity services, which are at an advanced stage.

He said that should it receive extra requests from mothers or parents in similar circumstances, it will provide all relevant information and support that is available, considering the historic context.

The HSE has appointed a liaison person to deal with new potential inquiries about cases.

Calls for HSE transparency in light of the revelation

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson, Billy Kelleher said that it was important to establish what hospitals were carrying out the practice, how long it went on for and if family members of both deceased were notified of the burial procedure.

He said the HSE must be upfront and honest about the issues and ensure adequate support measures are put in place for all of the families affected.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said it was yet another distressful revelation that will cause considerable upset, especially for mothers who have lost children in birth, or who had stillbirths back in the pre-1980s and into the early years of that decade.

He said that while those responsible meant no harm by their actions, their actions were nonetheless inappropriate and likely offensive to both the family of the dead infant and the family of the deceased adult.