James Reilly, the health minister, has been accused of hypocrisy after appointing yet another expert on a €164,000-a-year contract to tackle the waiting list and trolley count crisis.Lis Nixon has been appointed to the department’s special delivery unit, an €85m-funded group which, before her arrival, already had 16 staff tasked with similar functions.
Despite opposition parties claiming her salary breaches the €92,000-a-year Government adviser pay cap, Dr Reilly’s spokesman insisted the role was an "executive function" and as such means the rate was irrelevant.
This, he said, is because Ms Nixon had been tasked with a specific role and was implementing policy, not providing advice.
Ms Nixon, a director of Lis Nixon Associates, has been made director of performance improvement for unscheduled care — namely unplanned hospital attendances — with immediate effect. The external appointment was made after internal applications did not meet standards.
"They can call it what they like but they’re just splitting hairs," said Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher. "The fact is these appointments are breaching the Government’s own stated policy on advisers."
Ms Nixon has previously worked in Canadian emergency services reform, while between 2003 and 2008 she helped Britain’s NHS to see 98% of emergency department patients "within four hours".
She received €38,000 from the HSE last year for outside consultancy work on the acute medicine programme.
Ms Nixon will receive no pension or bonus payments. She will be paid travel and subsistence in Ireland but journeys to her home in Britain will not be paid.
Her appointment comes a week after it emerged another senior special delivery unit employee, Martin Connor, failed to attend six of the 10 HSE board meetings while he sat on the body. This is because he is based in San Francisco.
Mr Connor has a €480,000, three-year special delivery unit contract.
Currently, more than 100 health service managers and administrators — excluding medical staff — earn over €100,000 a year.
While the Government does not consider Ms Nixon and Mr Connor advisers, the latest move again places the spotlight on controversial adviser appointments breaching the pay cap.
They include Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s top advisers, Mark Kennelly and Andrew McDowell, who are paid €168,000 a year.
Colm O’Reardon and Mark Garrett, advisers to the Tánaiste, earn €155,000 and €168,000 respectively.
Separately, it emerged last night that Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan has hired a second special adviser. She is the only junior minister with two advisers. She already has one special adviser, Aidan Culhane, a former Labour councillor, on a salary of €80,051.
As she is a "super" junior minister sitting at the Cabinet, she is entitled to a second adviser. Paul Daly, a former Labour press officer, has already begun work in her department.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment confirmed the appointment and said Mr Daly’s salary would be similar that of Mr Culhane’s.
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