Health’s initial challenge is budgets, says Leo Varadkar

Bringing portfolio’s finances into line is Minister’s main goal

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: as a doctor, he  says he understands “the medicine and politics” of his new portfolio. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: as a doctor, he says he understands “the medicine and politics” of his new portfolio. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said one of the main challenges in his new job will be bringing budgets into line, but added he will not be able to solve all the problems in the department.

In the most significant move in yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle, Mr Varadkar took over in the department from James Reilly, who moves to the Department of Children, although he will take some aspects of health policy, such as tobacco control and tackling obesity, with him.

Speaking after his appointment, Mr Varadkar admitted his new department is “challenging” but said it is a job he always envisaged taking at some stage in his political career.

Mr Varadkar is a qualified doctor, and he said he understood the “medicine and the politics” of his new job.

However, Dr Reilly ran into difficulties in the department over issues like overspending, which was consistently criticised by the troika, as well as other controversies such as the allocation of primary care centres and medical card cuts.

Policy issues

Dr Reilly’s signature universal health insurance policy was also criticised and was a bone of contention with Labour, but Mr Varadkar says it is too early for him to comment on detailed policy issues.

“I don’t actually approach health with the view that in the 18 months or the 20 months to the election that I can solve all the problems in health, I don’t think that is a realistic approach.

“But I think what I can do is make a huge difference in health and really do a lot, particularly in getting the budget back in order.”

While he said it may be too close to this October’s budget to turn around an existing deficit, “ in a full financial year that would be my intention”.

When asked if his job is a poisoned chalice, he said: “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to turn a poison chalice into sweet wine but I am going to make sure I can do all I can to improve our health services.”