Opposition leaders have called for the Junior Health Minister, Tim O'Malley, to be sacked following a controversial interview on Prime Time Investigates last night.

The RTÉ programme highlighted a lack of mental health services for children.

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr O'Malley was doing his job to the best of his ability, and he was not going to 'jump over something he said in an interview'. 

Mr Ahern said money was being provided to set up eight extra mental health teams for children and adolescents, and that another 32 would be put in place in coming years.

The Health Service Executive has said that there is no benefit or incentive for health professionals working in the mental health services in having long waiting lists.

Martin Rogan of the HSE told RTÉ News that staff find it very difficult and distressing to have long waiting lists for children and adolescents requiring assessment and treatment.

He said services were improving and that around €800 million will be secured for services over the coming years with the sale of old psychiatric buildings and lands.

Mr Rogan was responding to a claim by Mr O'Malley that some people liked to have waiting lists as it made them feel powerful.

The Irish Hospital Consultants' Association is seeking an early meeting with Mr O'Malley over the remarks.

In a letter to the minister today, the IHCA said the statements were a cause of grave concern.

It said it wanted to discuss the allegation that waiting lists were an artificial creation to give certain professionals within the service a sense of power.

Mr O'Malley said today that he would ask the HSE to explain its waiting lists for mental health services for children.

Programme highlights waiting times

The Prime Time Investigates programme highlighted HSE figures released under the Freedom of Information Act that revealed the extent of the mental health crisis.

Over 3,000 children under 16 are on waiting lists just to get a diagnosis. How long a child is forced to wait depends on where he or she lives.

In Dublin, they may wait for up to two years; in Mayo it is three and a half years.

In Carlow/Kilkenny it can take nearly four years and in Kerry a child who goes on a waiting list on his fifth birthday may not get a diagnosis until he is nine and a half.

The programme claimed that almost one in five children suffers a serious psychological disorder.

In one survey, one in eight children had a behavioural problem such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), one in 12 suffered an anxiety disorder and one in 50 depression.