GPs and other practice staff should encourage patients to 'self care' to cut NHS spending on treatment of minor illnesses, say experts.
The Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) estimates that educating patients to self care for minor illnesses such as coughs, headaches and back pain could save the NHS up to £2 billion.
Speaking at the annual PAGB conference in London last week, GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman called for doctors and nurses to spend time educating patients about self care.
'Patient dependency costs the NHS a fortune and at least one hour of GP time every day.
'The NHS running out of money is a good trigger to promote self care. We now need a mass movement, from various sources, to encourage self care.'
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the RCGP, urged GPs to work in partnership with patients to give them more control over their health.
Dr Anna Dixon, director of policy at the King's Fund think tank, said: 'The top 10 minor ailments account for 75 per cent of consultations.
'If we can get patients to self care once, they will do it again as they become more confident.'
She added that it is important for GPs and nurses to see it as part of their role to promote self care.
Shadow Conservative health minister Mark Simmonds said that the Tories were committed to making the NHS much more patient centred and pledged a greater emphasis on public health and prevention.
'The NHS looks upward to Whitehall not outward to the patients,' he said.
'We can change this by giving patients more autonomy and encouraging them to treat themselves, where appropriate. But we need to be careful that we do not discourage patients from visiting their practice.'
Mr Simmonds added that NICE should consider issuing guidance on self care.