Millions of GP appointments for coughs, colds, insect bites and other minor issues could be avoided if patients were helped to treat themselves, according to a report by the Local Government Association.
The report - Helping people look after themselves - points out that more than 5m GP appointments a year are for blocked noses, 40,000 for dandruff, and 20,000 for travel sickness.
Minor illnesses and conditions account for around 57m GP consultations a year, the LGA report warns - roughly equivalent to one in seven consultations in general practice.
Councils say that since they took control of public health in 2013, many have run health literacy campaigns to encourage patients to self care, and the report urges GPs to back the drive.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that senior GPs had been calling for more self care for 'a significant amount of time'. He agreed GPs could do more, but warned that the government and NHS England had a significant role to play.
'We need all parties to reduce consultations that can be dealt with in other parts of the system,' he said. He added that the government had run national campaigns to encourage more responsible use of A&E, and should do the same for general practice.
Dr Vautrey said GPs must remain accessible and that there was 'always a balance' to avoid losing the opportunity to pick up on 'hidden' issues that may be affecting patients who present with unrelated minor illness. But he added that reducing time spent on consultations for conditions that patients could manage themselves could improve overall access to GPs.
'We have to have consistent messaging,' he said. 'We have to get better as a society at risk management, rather than having as the default - if in doubt go to the GP.'
Chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board councillor Izzi Seccombe said: 'We need a new culture of care, where people stop and think before calling the doctor.
'GPs and A&E departments are already overstretched. However many appointments are unnecessary and for minor conditions that a person could treat or manage themselves.
'But patients need to be helped in learning how to look after themselves, for example in managing long-term conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, and GPs can play a key role in this.'
Photo: Solent News