PATIENTS have praised a specialist clinic in south Essex which is helping hundreds of people cope with a crippling condition that can often go undiagnosed.

Southend Hospital’s chronic fatigue syndrome and ME clinic has a number of branches in Essex, including one in Benfleet, helping people get their lives back on track.

Patients like Margaret Wigglesworth have benefited from their expertise and she spoke out to mark ME Awareness Week.

Margaret said: “It was such a relief to find people who understand what I have been going through and can help me build up my energy. I just wish I had been referred to the clinic earlier. I have spent nightmare years trying to get recognition.”

Before being diagnosed, Margaret suffered a series of viral infections each leaving her more exhausted so that even the simplest of tasks was a major challenge.

Various doctors told her the blinding headaches, nausea and fainting spells were all in the mind until she reached the stage when she was no longer able to put one foot in front of the other.

Margaret, 53, from Basildon, said: “Energy was just oozing out of me like a tap. Then my vision went, my speech and memory went and I felt spaced out, like I was in a bubble.”

After a long struggle to get help, Margaret eventually found a sympathetic doctor who understood ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, and she was referred to one of the hospital’s clinics.

When she first attended, she could only hobble along with two sticks.

As well as seeing consultant physician Dr Tony Collings at the clinic, Margaret has also received help from a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist and is now walking unaided and beginning to recover some energy. She is hoping she will eventually be able to do a few hours of work each week.

Dr Collings said the condition – which typically affects high achievers and people with obsessional personalities – is still stigmatised.

He said:“It is difficult for other people to accept because there is nothing to see. But it is very real and can be quite devastating in its effects. It affects all ages, but is most common in late middle age, and affects more women than men. Although some patients manage to hold down a job, others are totally bed-bound and need full-time care.”

Anyone wishing to access the service should contact their GP.