A charity which provides support to people affected by HIV in Somerset has had its council contract terminated.

The Eddystone Trust, which has offices in Taunton and provides services across the county, has been told by Somerset County Council its services are no longer needed.

The council intends to replace the service in April after the Eddystone Trust didn't have the 'anticipated impact' on reducing demand on the authority's treatment services.

But the trust says it is concerned around 140 people who access its services for support and advice will not know 'where to turn', as it claims the council has not informed the public what the replacement will be.

Andrew Evans, director of operations and finance at The Eddystone Trust said: “We are deeply concerned about the impact that ending this contract will have on the people we support; people who can’t access sexual health services through established health providers. We don’t just provide practical advice and support. Our staff are trained to cover broader issues like housing, employment and mental health.

“Ending this activity will significantly reduce the reach and effectiveness of these services and could leave thousands of people in Somerset without ready access to sexual health promotion, advice and HIV support services. We were initially told that there would be no changes in service provision, but we now know this not to be the case, with quite a number being cut.

“Many of the people we work with are very upset and distressed by this upcoming change. Having HIV is a life-changing event and requires specialist knowledge, skills and dedication of highly-trained staff who know and empathise with the people they support.

“Service users have expressed concerns to us about the future of the service, and we want to provide them with answers, but are currently unable to do so.”

The Eddystone Trust has been running since 1986 to challenge the stigma, discrimination and misinformation associated with HIV and sexual health. Last year more than 6,000 people across Somerset received its sexual health outreach support.

The trust has been working with Somerset County Council since 2016.

Funding for the Targeted Prevention Service, which includes the HIV support, stands at £150,000 per year.

Mr Evans added: “It’s not just those with HIV and their carers who will be affected by this change, but the thousands more who we educate with our programmes around sexual health and wellbeing, and STI prevention.

“We really want to support our service users and ensure this vital support is maintained.”

Lindsay Pickering, 60, from Taunton was diagnosed with HIV in 1996 and has been supported by The Eddystone Trust since it began providing services in the county in 2008.

He said: “Eddystone has been there for me during my most difficult days – when I had come to terms with the fact that I was dying, the medication and its devastating side effects.

“My support workers’ knowledge is incredible and the practical advice and support for my mental wellbeing they have provided has been invaluable. I simply can’t see any other local government agency being able to do what Eddystone do. They go above and beyond for all of us in a way that helps us learn how to manage things for yourself. But if you stumble, they will be there.”

Mr Pickering, who now takes 54 tablets a day to combat HIV, diabetes and vascular dementia, both brought on as side effects from early medication, said he was devastated when he heard the contract for services was being cancelled.

“I feel as if a rug has been pulled from under me," he added.

"All the old feelings of fear, insecurity and how you’re going to cope have come flooding back.

"Our vital support will be gone and I feel as if the council think of a us as a commodity that they can just get rid of.

"I just hope we can fight to change this decision.”

But the council says the support people receive 'isn't changing'

A spokesman for SCC said: “Our funding for the Targeted Prevention Service, which includes the support for people living with HIV, isn’t changing.

“Though we appreciate the work that the Eddystone Trust has done over the last three years, it hasn’t had the anticipated impact on reducing demand on our treatment services.

"We’ve therefore reviewed arrangements to make sure we are getting more from the money we’re spending.

“Support will continue, but through a different provider and we are confident that this will mean better services reaching more people who actually need them giving better value for money – online testing, for example, has been shown to reach those at higher risk of sexually transmitted infections who might not normally use services but would benefit from targeted health promotion to reduce future risk.”