Dr Paul Charlson said the NHS should reduce patients' expectations on services, rather than focus on slimming down the supply side of the NHS.
He also called for the government to be more explicit about what services are available on the NHS and for whom it would provide treatment.
Dr Charlson said growing patient demands on NHS services was the 'real issue'. He warned that the supply side in the NHS 'can only be made so lean' and said focus should move to changing patients' 'health-seeking behaviours'.
He added: 'The elephant in the room is why the cost of healthcare has gone up and why people are consulting GPs more.
'Part of it is also to do with people demanding the care they want, but don't actually need and clinicians are often too scared to say "no".'
Dr Charlson suggested that patients need incentives to use services more effectively, such as through the use of personal budgets.
He added that he was 'unsure how the NHS would survive' if the demand side of NHS was not tackled.
Dr Charlson said he personally thought that co-payments, where patients pay for extra treatment in addition to the services provided to them on the NHS, could save money.
He used the example of GPs increasing levels of generic prescribing but allowing patients to use co-payments if they want branded drugs.