By Adam Brimelow
Health correspondent, BBC News
common ailments account for nearly one fifth of GPs workload
Too many people are going to see their GP with minor problems, such as coughs and colds, a group of doctors and health campaigners says.
The report by the "Self-Care Campaign" says common ailments account for nearly one fifth of GPs' workload.
It says the cost to the health service across the UK is nearly £2bn a year.
The campaign - funded by drugs companies selling over-the-counter medicines - has won backing from doctors, nurses and health charities.
The report says many people with minor ailments go to their doctor out of convenience or dependency rather than need, at huge cost to the health service.
It concludes that this is unsustainable.
However it adds: "This does not mean denying treatment to those who are sick but making sure that people receive the services they actually need."
Drawing on research funded by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain - which speaks for manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines and food supplements in the UK - the report says more there are more than 50 million consultations every year that are solely for "minor" ailments.
These include back pain, dermatitis, nasal congestion and coughs.
The campaign urges all political parties to act on its recommendations.
These include training for doctors and nurses on how to help people to treat themselves, and public information campaigns on how to manage minor ailments.
The report suggests tackling this problem could save the NHS £10bn over the next five years, without any cuts to services.
The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) say they support the move towards more self-care.
In a statement the RCGP president Professor Steve Field, said: "Patients with long-term and complex conditions need more time with their GP to discuss their care and treatment options.
"We need to look at ways of encouraging a change in attitude towards the treatment of minor illnesses so that health care and services are properly directed at those most in need."
Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said: "This whole question is about responsibility. Of course patients should be responsible about their health services, but so should every clinician being paid from the public purse.
"It is part of their professional duty to ensure that their patients are accurately informed about what they should do and when, about aspects of their health.
"Above all patients should be able to rely on timely access to a clinician when they are sick or worried sick. Every primary care contractor has a way to go on joining up the NHS for their patients before they start blaming the customer. We need to get this balance right."