The troubled health portfolio is likely to be handed to Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse if it is vacated as a result of National's leadership contest, senior doctors' union head Ian Powell says.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman yesterday launched his bid for the leadership of the National Party.

As prime minister, he would almost certainly give up the portfolio.

He is also a likely contender for the deputy role if he misses out on the top job.

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Mr Powell said Dr Coleman, a former GP, was personable and conversational, but tended to gloss over the sector's troubles.

''Someone walking into the health portfolio for the first time will be inheriting a number of burning issues, and I think Jonathan Coleman ... hasn't addressed core underpinning issues that need to be addressed.

''The health system is under incredible pressure,'' Mr Powell said.

Health started to hit the headlines this year, in marked contrast to National's first seven years in power.

The Otago Daily Times asked Mr Powell if the sole problem was a lack of money, and he said it was more complex.

''I think it's a combination of underfunding, of a highly vulnerable workforce that's under incredible pressure, and serious deficiencies in health leadership at both a government and DHB level.

''I think [Dr Coleman] glosses over the serious plight the public health system is in, and I don't think he sufficiently gets it.

''At our last conference he annoyed the delegates a lot, because when somebody would express a different view to his, he had a stock answer of simply saying: 'We'll have to agree to disagree'.''

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Dr Coleman has been in the role for two years, and is seen as less ideological than his predecessor, Tony Ryall.

The difficult health portfolio needs a solid minister, and Mr Woodhouse is seen as a safe pair of hands.

Unlike most of his colleagues, Mr Woodhouse had some health sector experience, Mr Powell said. Before entering Parliament in 2008, he worked as chief executive of Mercy Hospital, and had earlier worked in various management roles at Dunedin Hospital. He also held senior management positions in
ACC.

Mr Woodhouse holds the Immigration, Workplace Relations and Safety, and Revenue portfolios. Last night, Mr Woodhouse said it was ''premature to speculate'' on any particular role.

''I haven't really, honestly, turned my mind to that.''