Minister today announced a crackdown on the "unethical" practice of hiring nurses for the NHS from the developing world.

Minister today announced a crackdown on the "unethical" practice of hiring nurses for the NHS from the developing world.

NHS trusts and health authorities will be ordered to blacklist unscrupulous commercial recruitment agencies that supply the health service with temporary staff, if they continue to recruit nurses and other health-care workers from countries whose medical needs are greater than the UK's.

The move comes in response to accusations that the UK, the world's fourth largest economy, has been trawling through poor nations for staff. The former South African president Nelson Mandela begged Britain three years ago to stop poaching doctors and nurses.

The Government launched an international advertising campaign last month to boost recruitment of foreign doctors, to meet Tony Blair's promise in last year's NHS plan for a big expansion in the NHS workforce. The move followed the success of earlier campaigns to recruit foreign nurses.

But ministers have been embarrassed that, despite guidance issued two years ago banning NHS organisations from recruiting staff from a list of developing nations, private recruitment agencies have flouted the guidance, and also exploited foreign staff here.

At a Trade Unions Congress conference last month, five Filipino nurses staged a noisy protest to highlight the "slave" conditions in which they were being made to work after being hired by a private care home in Swindon, Wiltshire.

Under the NHS plan, the Government aimed to recruit 10,000 extra doctors and 20,000 extra nurses by 2004, but ministers have accepted that these targets are not achievable without recruitment from abroad. The number of overseas nurses registered to work in Britain rose by 41 per cent last year and hospitals recruited from a record range of countries.

A total of 8,403 non-European Union nurses and midwives joined the nursing register in the 2000-01 year, compared with 5,945 the year before and 3,621 in 1998-99. Recruits from the Philippines soared from 52 in 1998-99 to 3,396 in 2000-01, while the second highest source of overseas nurses is South Africa, with 1,086.

Not all developing nations are included in the ban. The Philippines has a surfeit of nurses and is regarded as a legitimate recruiting ground for the NHS, but South Africa and the Caribbean are off limits.

The Department of Health has no jurisdiction over private agencies, but they risk being driven out of business if they do not comply. Agencies will be blacklisted if they charge fees to candidates to be considered for recruitment and if they fail to provide them with the same access to education, training and support as UK candidates.

The new code of practice has been drawn up with trade unions and NHS staff, and will be policed by Georgina Dwight, the Department of Health's director of international recruitment. John Hutton, a Health minister, said: "This sends out a clear signal that the NHS will not work with commercial recruitment agencies who do not work to high standards of ethics in keeping with the code."