Taoiseach backs Varadkar as Health Minister

It has set out out how it will spend its budget of more than €13bn

The Taoiseach says he has full confidence in the Minister for Health - despite the HSE saying it has a major funding shortfall for next year.

The HSE has said it will have to make financial cutbacks in acute hospital services to bridge a gap of €100m, and opposition parties have hit out at the health minister Leo Varadkar, accusing him of deliberately issuing an unworkable budget.

However Enda Kenny has said he has full confidence in Mr. Varadkar and wouldn't rule out putting him back into the job if Fine Gael is re-elected.

"What I’d like to do is appoint the best Cabinet that I can have," Mr Kenny said.

"Leo Varadkar is doing an excellent job ina very difficult position. He is one of ... first calss ministers in the Cabinet, they’re all doing very well indeed.”

The HSE has said it may have to make cuts to acute hospitals, after identifying a €100m shortfall in next year's health service plan.

The HSE has outlined its service plan for 2016, and says it plans to issue 50,000 fewer medical cards.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar says the sector throws up a lot of challenges, but that it goes right 80% of the time.

At the end of the year, the HSE looks back at its spending for the year and projects how it will spend next year.

Looking ahead to 2016, the HSE admits that it is short €150m in funding for acute hospitals, before a single patient has been admitted.

While it expects it can meet €50m of that shortfall next year, in order to plug the €100m gap, it may have to make cuts to hospitals, but only as a last resort.

The Executive is also planning to issue 50,000 fewer medical cards next year. Minister Varadkar has said this relates to an increase of people returning to work.

The HSE Director-General Tony O'Brien says the eligibility for medical cards is not changing.

The HSE has come in for criticism for its repeated overruns in health - something they are not allowed to do next year, under European Union spending rules.

Minister Varadkar told Newstalk Breakfast earlier that it is very difficult to predict in health.

The Taoiseach has defended plans to cut the number of medical cards next year. He has been quizzed on the issue in the Dáil.