The Minister for Health has defended the appointment of a new senior executive in his department on a €164,000 salary.

James Reilly said Lis Nixon is not an adviser, but an executive appointed to tackle the trolley crisis in hospitals.

Mr Reilly said Ms Nixon was pivotal in achieving a four-hour from registration to either admission or going home in NHS emergency departments in England.

“They succeeded to a 98% success rate. That's light years away for us," he said.

Mr Reilly said many people working in the health service earn in excess of Ms Nixon’s salary and “when we have made available to us people of this order, of this skill set and we can afford to pay them, of course we should go out and get them and pay them”.

The Minister said billions had been spent on health over decades that yielded no improvement, and this appointment was to do a job for three years.

“If we've achieved what we set out to achieve in terms of waiting times in emergency departments, people won't be talking about what she was on. They'll be just praising her and thanking God we were able to get her,” Mr Reilly said.

Ms Nixon has been appointed to the executive position of Director of Performance Improvement for Unscheduled Care.