A public services consultant without a background in the NHS has been appointed special adviser to health secretary Alan Milburn.

The appointment of Professor Paul Corrigan, currently executive director of research charity the Public Management Foundation, follows former adviser Simon Stevens' move to the policy unit at 10 Downing Street.

But the surprise appointment has raised eyebrows in health circles, where Professor Corrigan is little known - in marked contrast to Mr Stevens, a career NHS manager.

Professor Corrigan, a high-profile member of the Blairite New Local Government Network and husband of Labour chief whip Hilary Armstrong, is a more familiar face in local government.

The appointment was slammed by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Evan Harris, who claimed Professor Corrigan was a 'privatisation expert'.

'The most worrying aspect of this appointment is not that it was based on marital connections, but that Professor Corrigan is an expert in the privatisation of public services in local government, ' he said.

In a defensively worded statement, the Department of Health said Professor Corrigan had been 'appointed on merit for his knowledge and experience of public service reform'.

The DoH said the appointment reflected 'the importance of delivery in the government's public service reform agenda'.

He had expertise in 'management of policy implementation throughout the system of public service', including helping to establish the London borough of Camden's education service in 1990.

Professor Corrigan, who starts his new job on 23 July, said: 'I am very excited to be asked to do it. There is a clear government agenda about public service delivery. That is what my role will be about.'

He refused to define himself as either an ideas man or an implementer, saying: 'I have a lot of ideas about implementation.

'My job is about making change happen. It is not about having ideas about new policy, but about ideas for putting the policies into practice.'

An HSJ source described Professor Corrigan as 'charismatic', adding: 'His big thing is ideas. He's very enthusiastic and has little time for those who do not throw a lot of energy into what they do.'

Local Government Association head of health and social affairs John Ransford said Professor Corrigan had been responsible for 'pioneering work on local government scrutiny, and particularly scrutiny of the health service.'

A former senior lecturer at Warwick University, he has since 1995 been visiting professor of public policy at North London University.