Howlin takes a swipe at Varadkar over €1bn plea
Mr Varadkar last week set out his stall ahead of October's Budget, warning that the significant level of investment is required just to meet existing demand.
The Health Minister also warned that plans for universal health care cannot be met unless adequate funding is provided.
But Mr Varadkar's comments about requiring an additional €1bn were met with a cool response from Mr Howlin yesterday. He described the sum as a "nice, round figure", adding that Mr Varadkar and his predecessor James Reilly have previously sought such a sum but their requests could not be met.
"A billion seems to be the annual figure that ministers for health demand, it's a nice round figure, and for the four years I've been here, it's the sum looked for," Mr Howlin said.
"The last four years, we hadn't a spare billion to give to anybody. And, I suppose, if you look at what happened at the end of last year, we were able to allocate a significant supplementary estimate to health because of the recovery of the economy, I wouldn't be able to do that in previous years," the Labour politician added.
Mr Howlin, who is himself a former health minister, pointed out that the health service faces pressures that no other department does.
He said these are "unique" pressures because the health service must operate on a "365 days of the year, on a seven-day 24-hour basis".
Meanwhile, Mr Howlin admitted that the time-frame for the roll out of Universal Health Insurance (UHI) has taken the Government "longer than we envisaged".
He said it was still on the agenda, adding that it is being preceded by free GP care for the under-sixes and over-70s.
Mr Howlin said the time-frame for UHI is now one for the incoming government.
He was responding to a draft report by the European Commission which said "uncertainty" remains surrounding its roll-out.
EU officials also said they had seen a report being carried out into UHI by the Economic Social and Research Institute (ESRI).
The issue of UHI has led to tensions between Mr Varadkar and the Taoiseach's officials after the Dublin West TD suggested that the model would exclude the areas of drugs and primary care.
Tánaiste Joan Burton has also raised questions about its implementation.