A pilot scheme of opt-out HIV testing at University Hospital Lewisham has been a "huge success," diagnosing 20 new cases of the virus.

Now half way into a two-year pilot, the screening has detected 20 previously unknown cases of HIV, and also identified 12 known HIV positive patients who have disengaged with care.

Lewisham has one of the highest rates of HIV in the country at 8.36 people per 1,000, nearly quadruple the national average.

But for the last year, anyone who has had a blood test in the Emergency Department at University Hospital Lewisham has been screened for HIV, unless they opt out.

Any patients found to have HIV are referred to the Alexis Clinic at the University Hospital Lewisham.

Consultant HIV specialist Dr Melanie Rosenvinge said: “We’re thrilled that this pilot scheme is progressing in such an effective manner, allowing us to provide our exemplary care to HIV positive patients who were previously unaware of their status, at a much earlier, safer stage.”

If diagnosed early, treatment for the virus can allow for long and healthy lives, as well as preventing transmission.

Later diagnosis can be much more dangerous, and even fatal.

The aim of the scheme is to identify more HIV positive patients earlier, leading to fewer unnecessary hospital admissions down the line, saving the trust and NHS huge sums of money.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation were amongst the major backers for the HIV testing scheme, which has also been rolled out at King's College Hospital and St Thomas' Hospital.

The introduction of routine testing is also helping to break down the stigma surrounding HIV, which the NHS says is one of the biggest barriers to testing.

One patient, who attended the emergency department with a completely unrelated issue, was found to be HIV positive via the testing pilot.

They told the trust: "I’ll tell you the truth, I’m glad I got tested. Everyone’s been so supportive. I think everyone should have a test.”