• Royal College of Emergency Medicine appoints first female president
  • Appointment comes just days after proposals to potentially scrap four-hour target published
  • Katherine Henderson says four-hour standard “not perfect” but has delivered on improving waiting times 

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has elected a new president just as the debate around the future of the four-hour waiting time standard reaches a critical point. 

Katherine Henderson, the first woman elected president by the college, will formally take up the role in October. She will replace Taj Hassan who will finish his three-year set term.

Her appointment comes just days after NHS England outlined proposals which could see the four-hour waiting time target scrapped – something the college has strongly opposed.

The college was controversially not invited to the NHS clinical review of standards, headed by NHS England medical director Steve Powis, following long-running tensions between the college and NHSE.

The panel invited representatives from both the Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Physicians, but the only emergency medicine experts formally involved were from NHSE’s urgent and emergency care team.

Dr Henderson looks set to continue to argue the merits of the four-hour target. She said that, while the existing measure was “not perfect”, it had served a valuable purpose of cutting waiting times in emergency departments, and any replacement would need to have an “honourable clinical reason behind it”.

She wrote on Twitter on 1 March: “[The four-hour] target [is] not perfect but unless [the NHS has] something that pulls flow through I fear for us. Oh, and the way this is reported suggests we saw sprains before heart attacks – pretty insulting.”

She added: “The [four-hour] access standard came in because it was realised that patients waiting hours in ED was a bad thing. Not much changed then for the reason for the standard. Any new standard has to have an honourable clinical reason behind it.”

In a statement issued today, she said it was a “huge privilege to become RCEM’s next president” although there were “challenging years ahead”.

She added: “The recent news of plans to replace or amend the four-hour target means that the work of the college has never been more important.

“How we measure emergency care to ensure patient safety and drive flow is a key priority for me, but in addition to this I am determined to tackle the issue of corridor medicine, improve retention and enhance the value of college membership.”

Dr Henderson paid tribute to her predecessor: “I would like to thank Dr Hassan for all the excellent work that he has done over his term of office, particularly his work in agreeing an emergency medicine workforce strategy with NHS England and Health Education England. It really will make a difference to our specialty.”

Dr Hassan added: “To us, patient safety is paramount. I am confident that Dr Henderson will continue to champion our cause and oversee a challenging but exciting period for emergency medicine.”

The other candidates in the election were vice president Chris Moulton, a consultant at the Royal Bolton Hospital and joint lead of the Getting it Right First Time A&E programme, and Carole Gavin, a consultant at Salford Royal Infirmary.

The ballot operated on the basis of voter preference with a single transferable vote methodology. Voter turnout was 48 per cent and the elections were conducted officially and independently by Electoral Reform Services.