THE Government's plan for Universal Health Insurance by 2019 is "too ambitious", according to the new Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
Mr Varadkar has also said that the abolition of the HSE will be delayed until new organisational and funding structures for hospitals are "bedded down".
The Dublin West TD and trained GP who is settling into his new job at the Department of Health has said that the Government's target date for the introduction of Universal Health Insurance within the next five years is unlikely to be met.
Under the plan, everybody will have equal access to primary and hospital care regardless of income. However, concerns have been raised about the cost of the scheme.
The Department of Public Expenditure has claimed it could add €5bn to healthcare costs with insurance costing as much as €1,672 per person which the State would pay in full or subsidise for some.
Now Mr Varadkar has said that he is prioritising free GP care over Universal Health Insurance.
"Universal GP Care and Primary Care are the first two parts of the Government's plan for Universal Health Care - the third part is Universal Health Insurance," he said.
"Personally I think we need to get Universal GP and Primary Care right and show people that it works before trying to bring Universal Health Insurance into the hospital system.
"That's why I think the original timetable to have Universal Health Insurance in place by 2019 is too ambitious."
Mr Vardakar is committed to introducing free GP care for children under six and the over-70s, but said that the roll-out of the service for the rest of the population may take "longer than originally planned".
Meanwhile, on his predecessor Dr James Reilly's plan to abolish the HSE, Mr Varadkar said that the agency will remain in place until a new system of hospital groups - where "the money follows the patient" is "bedded down".
Asked this morning about Dr Reilly's controversial tenure in office Mr Varadkar said: "He achieved a lot of things in health that a lot of people don't give him credit for."
On the health service budget he told RTE Radio: "We're certainly going to over-run this year - there's no doubt about that, somewhere in the region of €450m to 500m.
He said he has discussed the matter with Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin and added: "We're trying to get in place a realistic budget for next year."
Mr Varadkar conceded that "morale among health service staff is pretty low".
"It's not just about pay cuts. There is a sense that things can never improve, there is reform fatigue, and a feeling that management, government and media don't believe that they can do anything right," he said.
"We're losing doctors, nurses, managers and other health professionals overseas and to the private sector.
But he called health workers "phonomenal" adding "with fewer staff and reduced budgets they have produced better outcomes and held our services together".
Mr Varadkar said the next 18 months will be "especially exciting" as construction on the new National Children's Hospital is set to begin at it's chosen site on the campus of St James's Hospital in Dublin.
"It will be great to see the cranes moving in," he said.
The 35-year-old added that settling into his new brief has been "rewarding and enlightening".