Using syringe drivers 

Health professionals need to be competent in setting up and using syringe drivers and care needs to be taken with contraindications, drug incompatibilities and conversion rates.

Key points

  • A syringe driver is used to give continuous medications subcutaneously when a person is no longer able to swallow. Syringe drivers are battery operated pumps for delivering infusions that usually run over 24 hours.
  • Syringe drivers are particularly valuable for patients in the community. 
    • They relieve family members of some of the burden of administering medications, and make it more likely that consistent doses will be maintained
    • Be aware that syringe drivers sometimes have a negative significance for patients, and in this case alternative approaches may be required
    • If a syringe driver is unavailable or not wanted, ensuring that subcutaneous medication is given regularly can achieve the same outcome
    • A number of medications can be combined for infusion in a single syringe driver, however compatibility needs to be considered. 
    • Safer Care Victoria have developed drug compatibility guideline (689kb pdf)
  • There is a risk of potentially serious medication error if staff are unfamiliar with the equipment, if different types of pumps or drivers are in use in the same setting, or if staff members use different ways to calculate infusion rates.
  • Request advice from palliative care nurses if there are any concerns about the safe use of syringe drivers. 
  • Online learning modules are available for clinicians who need to use syringe drivers.

Last updated 24 August 2021