The Audit Commission has called for 'urgent modernisation' of the police surgeon service.

In a report published yesterday, it says the work of police surgeons has 'changed dramatically' since the 1970s, when blood testing suspected drink-drivers accounted for 75 per cent of it.

More than 80 per cent of police surgeons' time is now spent assessing the fitness of prisoners and 50 per cent of call-outs relate to drug and alcohol abuse or mental health problems.

At the same time, the report says, some forces are struggling to recruit enough surgeons, facilities are often inadequate and national standards 'do not exist'.

The Audit Commission says forces should assess whether some routine work could be done by other health professionals. It also says forces could benefit by buying services from trusts, universities or other 'centres of excellence' instead of contracting with individual GPs.

The Doctor's Bill: the provision of medical services to the police. Audit Commission publications, 0800-502030. pounds20.