Syringe Drivers

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 compatability needs to be considered. 
      Syringe Driver Drug Compatability 
  • 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.
    Guideline - For Safe Use and Management of Syringe Drivers
  • 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.
    Online Learning - About Syringe Drivers

Guideline - For safe use and management of syringe drivers

Guidelines for subcutaneous infusion device management in palliative care

These evidence based guidelines cover all aspects of the use of syringe drivers, and focus on safe practice, and patient and family education. A range of syringe drivers are now in use in Australia - the guidelines are applicable to all of these.

Ref: Centre for Palliative Care Research and Education (CPCRE). Guidelines for subcutaneous infusion device management in palliative care. 2nd ed. Brisbane; Queensland Health: 2010. (709kb pdf)
From: Centre for Palliative Care Research and Education (CPCRE)


Online learning - About syringe drivers

Management of subcutaneous infusions in palliative care - Learning objectives for this learning package cover:

  • the indications and contraindications for subcutaneous infusions in palliative care
  • the management and safety principles when using infusion devices
  • the principles of appropriate site selection for insertion of a cannula
  • the strategies for preventing site related problems
  • the drugs commonly used in subcutaneous infusions, and their indications for use
  • accurate information and education for patients and families/carers using subcutaneous infusion devices
  • safe monitoring of the patient with a subcutaneous infusion in situ.

Ref: Queensland Health. Subcutaneous Infusions in Palliative Care: Learning Modules [Internet]. 2014 [updated 2013 Sep 25; cited 2014 Nov 3].
From: Centre for Palliative Care Research and Education (CPCRE)


Online tool - Syringe driver drug compatability

A calculator for checking the compatability of various combinations of medications for use in a syringe driver

From:  Palliative Care Adult Network Guidelines, UK

Last updated 21 February 2017