Minister for Health James Reilly has promised a massive reduction in hospital waiting lists by the end of this year.

He said he is confident that the target of ensuring no one waits longer than a year for a consultant appointment following a GP referral would be met, or very nearly met, by the end of December.

At the end of June, 88,000 patients were waiting more than 12 months, with 16,000 waiting more than four years.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Seán O'Rourke, Mr Reilly said: "We'll have it down in a major way by the end of the year.

"I'll put my hands up and say I can't guarantee 100%, but I guarantee you will see a massive reduction by the end of December in that figure."

Mr Reilly said the cost of providing free GP care to children under five would be €40m.

He said he believed free GP care for all would happen by 2016 and said it was a hugely important building block of universal health insurance.

When asked about his role, he said he expected to be castigated from a height and he did not take on the job as Minister for Health to be popular.

Mr Reilly said delivering change would not be down to him alone, but to great people in the health service.

On a Cabinet reshuffle, he said he would "absolutely not" like the idea of a change, but said it was a matter for the Taoiseach.