Half of the £20 billion short-fall in NHS funding over the next five years could be saved from a shift in behaviour towards self-treatment of minor ailments, a report by the Self Care Campaign group says.
The group's supporters include senior GPs from the NHS Alliance, RCGP and National Association of Primary Care.
'We are now living in a society in which the common disturbance to normal good health, such as coughs and colds, are accounting for nearly a fifth of GP workload,' the group said.
It called for a public education campaign and for the national curriculum to teach children the best ways to use the NHS effectively and appropriately.
NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon said the idea was not to raise the threshold for accessing NHS services. 'It is about opening the door to better self-care, rather than closing the door to NHS services when people need them.
'It's about change on both sides, thinking about the NHS as a partnership between people as patients and people as taxpayers.'
RCGP chairman Professor Steve Field said: 'We want to encourage people to go to their GP, particularly those who may have cancer. But we want to empower patients to treat themselves for minor ailments.'
A Patients Association spokeswoman said: 'There is a constant need for patients to be informed about the costs of their care, and for clinicians to offer services as efficiently as possible.'