The number of children with serious mental health and behavioural problems awaiting an initial assessment by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is 2,229.

One third of these children have been on the waiting list for more than six months.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Mental Health, Dr Denis McCauley, Chair of the GP Committee of the Irish Medical Organisation, expressed concern around access to CAMHS.

He told the committee that intervention at a young age is important to help prevent mental health problems in adulthood.

However, Dr McCauley said that approximately 15% of child and adolescent psychiatry posts are unfilled.

Dr Brian Osborne, Assistant Medical Director with the Irish College of General Practitioners also attended today's committee.

He told politicians that over 90% of mental health care takes place in general practice settings. He also said that he was particularly concerned for people aged 17 to 18 years old, who do not qualify for either CAMHS or adult services.

This is "detrimental to the care of these patients", he said.

Both organisations agreed that if GPs are given the adequate supports, general practice can be effective in dealing with many mental health issues.

Dr McCauley of the IMO said that "90% of emotional and psychological problems can be adequately managed by GPs in the community".

However, he said that currently "no funding is allocated for mental health care in General Practice".

Sinn Féin's Mark Ward asked why people with mental health difficulties have a 10.25 year life expectancy reduction.

Dr Osbourne of ICGP said that there isn't one reason, but the evidence points to "increased risk factors with regard to chronic disease" such as smoking, diet, physical inactivity.

He said that there can sometimes be side effects to the medication that people are on, including weight gain, high cholesterol and diabetes. He emphasised that he believed GPs are "well placed to deal with these issues".

Dr Sumi Dunne, a GP in Port Arlington in Co Laois, echoed calls for enhanced supports to allow GPs to deliver mental health services.

She outlined the current process behind referring somebody to counselling, saying: "You have to write a letter, you then have to give the patient a number to ring; it is an opt-in service ... there then is a waitlist before they get the actual appointment, they then have to travel a number of times to access the service.

"The service is then capped after 10 visits."

Dr Dunne said that it would be better for patients if they could access these services within the GP practice.