Edward Gilbert-Kawai: Blue-ink bandits

I write in patients’ notes in blue ink. Not only does this enable me to find my previous inserts rapidly among the ever-increasing reams of paperwork, but perhaps more importantly, I believe it is neater for others to decipher my writing, and thus safer for patient care. Unfortunately, however, I am all too often accosted by other medical professional colleagues, fervently brandishing my intelligible navy text whilst castigating me for purportedly “breaking the law.”  So, in an attempt to mollify those who chastise me, where do we stand with regard to the colour of our ink?

Perhaps peoples’ admonishment stems from the advice contained within a document entitled “Record Keeping—Guidance for Nurses and Midwives,” published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council in 2009. “Handwriting must be legible and written in black ink to enable legible photocopying or scanning of documents if required.”

In defence of blue ink bandits like me, humankind solved the conundrum of how to photocopy blue ink long ago and, fortuitously, advice obtained from the General Medical Council declares, “Whilst we provide guidance which states you must record your work clearly, accurately and legibly, we do not provide guidance on what type of ink you must write in.” And for those still not convinced that you can leave your indelible mark in cobalt or azure, advice given from the Medical Protection Society affirms, “There is no legal requirement to use black ink in the medical records.”

So, while the move to computerise all patients’ notes by 2018 should resolve the regular rebukes, until then perhaps we could agree that it is not the colour of the ink that we write in that is important, it’s the subject matter and ease of legibility that counts. 

Edward Gilbert-Kawai is an anaesthesia and intensive care medicine SPR at University College London Hospital. 

Competing interests: none