The Government has been accused of sacrificing the careers of foreign nurses to help solve the NHS financial crisis after a ban on international recruitment was announced.

The ban will initially affect the two most junior nursing grades, into which most foreign nurses are recruited, and will be lifted only where a suitable UK candidate cannot be found.

It starts next month and is expected to lead to a sharp drop in the 12,000 overseas nurses recruited each year.

Thousands of nurses who have been trained in the UK face potential redundancy after NHS trusts reported record deficits of £1.27bn last year.

The number of nurses trained in the UK has risen 62 per cent in the past decade to more than 25,000 a year, but since March, more than 16,000 job cuts have been announced across the NHS.

The recruitment of medical staff from overseas has discomfited ministers for years and led to accusations that the NHS was stripping the developing world of its most vital resource.

Efforts to impose "ethical" recruitment policies, by restricting it to countries with an excess of health workers, have had limited success.

Beverly Malone, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "International nurses have always been there for the UK in times of need, and it beggars belief that they are now being made scapegoats for the current deficits crisis.

"Removing nursing from the list of recognised shortage professions is short-termism in the worst possible sense. Over 150,000 nurses are due to retire in the next five to 10 years and we will not replace them all with home-grown nurses alone."

The Health minister, Lord Warner, said large-scale recruitment of international nurses was intended to be only a short-term measure and that extra investment in training meant there was no longer a need to hire junior nurses from abroad.