Vending machines offering free sexually transmitted infection kits could help stem a “near-crisis" level of case numbers.

A year-long pilot study on 11 machines in Brighton and Bristol found it was mostly young people who picked up the tests.

They liked the instant access and increased confidentiality the machines offered as well as the convenience of testing in their own time.

Some 2,536 kits were dispensed, 74 per cent of which were general STI packs and the remainder specifically for HIV.

Marc Tweed, service manager at the Terrence Higgins Trust in Brighton, said: “The sexual health vending machines are reaching some of those who wouldn’t test otherwise.

“In Brighton and Hove they’re a preferred option for people who are less likely to go to a sexual health clinic or may not want a test to be delivered at home.

“Putting vending machines in spaces like libraries and universities helps to normalise sexual health testing, but the issues raised by users around safety and privacy need to be negotiated to ensure people feel comfortable enough to use them.”

The Women and Equalities Select Committee heard last week that the rise in STIs among people aged 15 to 24 is “very close to crisis point” and that many people are unaware they are infected.

But Mr Tweed said the vending machines could help to identify those in need of treatment.

The Argus: 2,536 kits were dispensed from the 11 machines in Brighton and Bristol2,536 kits were dispensed from the 11 machines in Brighton and Bristol (Image: The Argus)

“Initiatives like vending machines must also be a piece of a much bigger jigsaw to proactively increase testing for STIs and HIV, including National HIV Testing Week which starts on Monday,” he said.

“We need a vision from the government for tackling soaring STIs and improving the nation’s sexual health and the funding to do so.”

Study author Dr Syra Dhillon, who is currently an intensive care medic at Whittington Health NHS Trust,said the vending machines were a “great initiative”, particularly for people “who find current methods inaccessible”.

“Some people find that seeking testing at clinics or via a GP can be embarrassing or time consuming and, for a lot of people in the UK, receiving a test kit through the post to a home address is not feasible,” said Dr Dhillon.

“As part of this study we also conducted user interviews. People really like the confidentiality, speed and convenience aspects of the machines.

“I think we need to consider a cost analysis as a next step and, if that is beneficial, then I’d love to see a national rollout of these vending machines.”

Some 92 per cent of people thought the machines were user-friendly and 97 per cent would recommend the service to a friend.

READ MORE: Brighton and Hove is one of the most STI infected areas

However researchers said there are still some barriers to overcome, with worries about safety and privacy reported by 42 per cent and 66 per cent of people respectively.

UK Health Security Agency figures show 6,618 people were tested for HIV when attending specialist sexual health services Brighton and Hove in 2022.

It is up from 44 per cent in 2021 but below the 66 per cent coverage seen before the pandemic in 2019.