PEOPLE with autism are sometimes ‘slipping through the net’ when they need mental health care in Oxfordshire, a county which spends less than the national average on these services.

Those were the alarms raised by Stephen Chandler, Oxfordshire County Council’s newly appointed director of adult services as councillors discussed extending a contract to fund mental health services in the county until 2022.

Oxfordshire’s plans for adult mental health care was scrutinised twice by county councillors last week: first on Tuesday at Performance Scrutiny Committee and secondly on Thursday at Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

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Mental health support services in the county are paid for jointly by the county council and Oxford Hospitals Trust under and arrangement called the Mental Health Outcomes Based Contract.

Mr Chandler told the Tuesday meeting that one area which still needed improving was making sure people with autism in need of mental health support received the care they needed.

This was because they often did not tick the boxes needed for care when going through a referral process.

Thame councillor Nick Carter described this oversight as the 'Achilles' Heel' of the contract.

Committee chair Liz Brighouse said there needed to be allowance for how people with autism often 'presented symptoms in a different way'.

The council is considered a ‘junior partner’ in the contract arrangement, and has paid £6.2 million in the last year towards a total pot of £43.1 million.

The contract helps 4,000 people with mental illness at any one time.

The way the public bodies have worked together with charities to provide care was praised in review the the Centre for Mental Health last week as 'pioneering'.

But a report on the contract recognised the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group currently invests 'less than the national average on mental health services.'

It said there is a plan to close the gap gradually over time.

At the Health Overview and Scrutiny meeting on Thursday, CCG chief Louise Patten defended the health authority's record on mental health services.

Ms Patten said mental health problems were 'less prevalent' in Oxfordshire than neighbouring areas, which had influenced to the lower level of funding.

But HOSC chair Arash Fatemian said funding per head of population still needed to be increased.

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The report shown to both committees said there may also be problems with the 'flat rate' model of paying the charities involved in the future.

The agreement subcontracts a group of mental health charities to offer support to people with specialist needs across Oxfordshire.

The report said these charities, which include Oxfordshire Mind, Elmore and Restore, are currently in a stable financial position, but only due to fundraising activities.

Without fundraising, the charities could start to lose money, as the flat rate from the contract would remain the same, while the costs of paying staff will go up due to inflation.