An Oireachtas committee has been told that Waterford and Wexford may have no consultant psychiatric services for children from mid-July onwards.

It comes after the resignation of three psychiatrists from the public health service in the southeast.

Revealing the development at the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, its Chairperson, Senator Joan Freeman, said she personally found it extremely disturbing.

Committee member Fianna Fáil TD James Browne, who represents Wexford, said a lot of psychiatric nurses want to get out of the Health Service Executive-run service.

He said their conditions and the level of stress they are under are appalling.

Mr Browne said that in his regular conversations with psychiatric nurses, the constant issue that arises was the mental health of their colleagues, of psychiatrists and of other staff working on the area.

He said this was because they were "trying to do, if you like, the impossible and constantly triaging".

He said he knows a lot of families in his Wexford constituency who are effectively being triaged.

"The psychiatrists and the other staff in Wexford have my absolute sympathy because it must be a horrible thing to have to sit and look at these different children and different families and have to constantly triage between who they think is actually in the worst situation," Mr Browne told the committee.

Mr Browne said that he understood that from the first of August this year, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Waterford and Wexford were going to be without their 3.6 whole time equivalent psychiatrists.

"One is on sick leave and the other 2.6, if you like, are leaving," the told the committee.

He said he understood that all the other CAHMS staff working under the psychiatrists in question could no longer effectively do their jobs because they have no-one to oversee them.

He cited non-consultant hospital doctors, psychologists and occupational therapists as examples of the categories he believed would be affected.

Deputy Browne asked if these staff were going to be redeployed if the HSE does not have CAMHS psychiatrists in the two counties. 

He further asked what psychiatrist was going to come into place if they are redeployed?

He said: "Because when I talk to consultants from outside the country who want to come into Ireland, one of the key reasons they say that actually, they're not interested isn't just the pay but they say: 'Well I've no office, I've no secretary …. no staff. So I'm going to spend my first year trying to recruit.'"

Senator Joan Freeman said one of the main issues with the mental health service here is down to recruitment.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, she said that while the HSE has cited that most psychiatric consultants and nurses go abroad, the problems lie closer to home.

Ms Freeman said that if a facility wants to hire a new psychiatric nurse, a series of 25 steps has to be followed before a position can be advertised, which can take up to six months.

She said that at the moment there are 500 vacancies, but the more alarming fact is that over the next four years, 1,700 people are due to retire.

She said the Oireachtas Committee is bringing not only the public in but also the people who provide mental health services here to discuss their issues.

She said problems have not yet been addressed and it could be because of a lack of political will.

Ms Freeman said that €900 million has been pumped into the mental health services here, but it is not seen where it is needed at the frontline.

She questioned if middle management have benefitted from the money.

Ms Freeman added that the Government cannot be lobbied for more money for the mental health services until it is established where the money is going.

Meanwhile, the HSE has welcomed the Children's Ombudsman's announcement that there has been a decrease in the proportion of complaints to his office relating to the health services.

The HSE was responding to the reference in today's annual report by the watchdog of the state body's failure to respond in a timely way to children and young people who are suicidal.

A spokesperson told RTÉ News that the Self Harm clinical programme in mental health has now been funded for three clinical nurse specialist posts in child and adolescent mental health, each to be based in one Dublin's three Paediatric Hospitals.

The spokesperson added that this would initiate the Self Harm in Emergency Department Clinical Programme for children. The HSE also said a working group is in place to advance these posts and that it hopes to have the staff recruited and in place by next autumn.