A GROUNDBREAKING Hampshire clinic to help people with Lyme disease is set to close next month after only six months.

The unique service was set up last summer by expert Dr Matthew Dryden, a consultant microbiologist at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

The clinic has helped some 120 people who have contracted the bacterial infection that spreads to people by infected ticks, frequently from animals in woodland.

The disease can have serious consequences, affecting the skin, joints, heart and nervous system.

The clinic was funded as a pilot by the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, but the trust has been unable to agree permanent funding with Public Health England.

Dr Dryden said: “The clinic is closing. Not because funding has been pulled; there never was any funding. The local trust should be congratulated for hosting it.

“There has been a massive demand and a huge national need and it is a huge disappointment that the powers that be have not reached an agreement. I was seeing people from across the UK.”

Dr Dryden said that the clinic may restart but almost certainly not in Winchester.

The south is a hotspot for Lyme disease because of the number of woods, the increase in housing in the countryside, and an increase in the number of animals such as deer.

Dr Dryden said: “Lyme disease is becoming commoner. The south is becoming more crowded, with lots of housing close to rural areas. Conservation is getting better and the amount of wildlife coming into proximity with people is growing.”

Local sufferer Catherine Collins said: “It is a terrible disappointment that the only NHS clinic in the country for Lyme disease is closing.

“For some, this was their only hope of finding treatment for this infectious disease, which is very treatable.

“Lyme is a complicated and poorly understood disease and there is very little expertise in the UK to diagnose and treat this disease, especially in its chronic form.

“Many sick patients get no help from the NHS and end up travelling to Germany or the USA for health care.

“Patients have sold their houses to fund their private Lyme treatment. It is a desperate situation for many people. Some commit suicide.”