The cost to the NHS of treating people with minor ailments such as coughs and colds is around £2bn per year, it has been revealed.
A group of leading healthcare professionals revealed the figure in a letter to The Times.
And the experts said the resulting impact on the NHS was "catastrophic".
The figures show that around a fifth of visits to GPs are for treatment for minor ailments.
Back pain was the most common reason, with other problems consulted on including colds, acne, constipation and migraines.
In the letter, the experts said the NHS had become the "victim of a demand-led culture" and called for attitudes towards the health service to change.
They said: "A shift in behaviour around treating minor ailments could save the NHS this money without any cuts to services whatsoever."
Among the letter's 17 signatories are Professor David Haslam, former chairman of the Royal College of GPs; Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance; and Dr John Chisholm, former chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs' Committee.
They are launching a Self Care Campaign, and also aims to "educate people to manage minor ailments so that GPs and practice nurses' time is freed up to look after more complex conditions".
Copyright © Press Association 2010
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Definitely. The problem is contradictory messages. On one hand treat minor illness at home on the other you can go to your GP and demand everything and anything and expect to get it. Perhaps taking a lot of things like paracetamol off prescription would be a good idea. So often the stroppy objects that turn up demanding to be seen yesterday for a minor self-limiting illness – their own or a child's – reek of cigarette smoke. Paracetamol costs less than a packet of cigarettes, doesn't it?" – Name and address withheld