Vending machines where patients can pick up their prescriptions without speaking to a pharmacist are to become a permanent fixture.

The machines – the first of their kind in the country – were installed at two Sainsbury’s stores in Sussex as part of a year-long pilot.

The service at the stores in Haywards Heath and Crawley proved to be so successful that plans are now under way to put them in other stores around the country.

Over the past 12 months the two machines have issued more than 4,500 prescriptions and have been in constant use.

They are popular with people who need regular repeat prescriptions but do not have the time to pick one up when the in-store pharmacy is open.

Sainsbury’s professional services manager David Gilder said: “The scheme has been very well received and has far exceeded our expectations.

“We are very pleased with how the project has worked and we will be keeping the machines.

“What has been interesting is that, although we have a good spread of customers across all the age groups, there is a significant number of older people over the age of 70 who like to use it.”

The Haywards Heath machine is usedmost often just before 9am and after 4pm, while in Crawley it is more popular at lunchtimes and in the early evening.

The store in Haywards Heath is close to the train station, and bosses believe many people using it are commuters.

Customers have to register and create a pin number to use the service, or they can use their fingerprint as identification.

When dropping a prescription off, customers sign in and fill out a form, and place it in an envelope.

They follow the remaining instructions on screen and take a printed receipt with the collection time and other relevant details. When collecting medication, customers sign in again, pay if necessary and the drugs will be dispensed.

The stores still have pharmacists available for people who would prefer to talk to someone about their prescription.

Mr Gilder said: “The service means people don’t have to queue up. It also means those who need to speak to our pharmacists may not have to wait so long to see them.”