TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has jumped to the defence of James Reilly as it emerged the Department of Health is likely to need a "significant bailout".
Ministers have been left shell-shocked by the "tangled web" of the health coffers and do not believe Dr Reilly can deliver on €666m worth of savings.
One senior figure in government described Dr Reilly's as overseeing finances that are in a "chaotic state".
And several others admitted to the Herald that they believe the health minister will request a fresh injection of cash in order to deal with the over-run in his department, which it is feared will exceed €200m this year.
However, Mr Varadkar backed his Fine Gael colleague, saying: "That's a very challenging job and I don't think I could do a better job than he is."
"Essentially what he's been asked to do is reform and overhaul our health service – and at the same time take hundreds of millions out of it in terms of spending reductions," the Dublin West TD said.
Dr Reilly admitted that the health service is facing its "most challenging year yet".
A team from Brendan Howlin's Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of the Taoiseach will now oversee spending in Dr Reilly's department.
The Herald can reveal that the Fine Gael politician was given an ultimatum prior to Tuesday's budget – cut medical cards or frontline hospital services.
Dr Reilly was told by the powerful Economic Management Council (EMC) that his budget should contain cuts to accident and emergency units.
But the Dublin North TD "blatantly refused" to stand over the measure, and instead must now oversee some of the harshest cuts to medical cards since the scheme was introduced.
Dr Reilly has the support of his Fine Gael ministerial colleagues who have sympathy for him over the draconian cuts he must impose.
It is likely that the bailout at the Department of Health will happen in the New Year so that it does not spoil Ireland's much-heralded exit from its EU/IMF bailout package on December 5.
"Reilly is dealing with a bucket of s***. It's chaotic – nobody believes the figures add up," one minister told the Herald.
Another minister, who is sympathetic to Dr Reilly's situation, described the health coffers as being in a "tangled web".
Much has been hinted at in the past 24 hours, with Dr Reilly stating that the €113m he must find in medical card savings was decided by the Cabinet.
"The HSE now has a difficult task of developing a service plan for 2014 that will deliver the maximum level of safe quality services possible within the funding available," said Dr Reilly.
There is also a strong view among Cabinet members and junior ministers that there was an "imbalance" between the adjustments to the Health and Social Protection budgets.
Dr Reilly's spokesman did not return calls from the Herald in relation to the matter.
See Andrew Lynch, page 14