The UK's reliance on recruitment of doctors and nurses from poor African countries was condemned today as "quite immoral" by the chairman of the British Medical Association.
Around 12,500 doctors and 16,000 nurses from Africa are registered to work in Britain.
The NHS has saved an estimated £2.7 billion by recruiting medics trained overseas, rather than training home-grown staff.
BMA chairman James Johnson said that many of the Africans working in the NHS came from countries which had virtually no healthcare staff of their own and were struggling with epidemics of HIV/Aids and other illnesses.
The Department of Health said in a statement that the NHS leads the world in ethical recruitment, with a code of practice ruling out active recruitment of staff from most African countries.
But Mr Johnson said that the gap in pay and conditions between Britain and the Third World countries involved is so large that there is no need for active recruitment campaigns to attract doctors and nurses to the UK.
He called on the Government to commit itself to making Britain self-sufficient in medical personnel within a decade.
"If one considers the absolutely catastrophic effect that the current policies are having on the developing world, it seems quite immoral to consider any other course of action," Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"If the UK is saying that it can't afford to train the doctors and nurses it needs to supply its own healthcare and has, as a matter of course, to rely on developing countries who have virtually no doctors or nurses in the first place, something is very, very seriously wrong.
"If you go to a country like Ghana, which has a population about one-third of ours, they have 1,500 doctors for the whole of the country.
"It's just astonishing. There's literally in some parts of these countries virtually no health care of any sort."
The Department of Health issued a statement saying: "The NHS does not actively recruit from any country that doesn't wish to be recruited from.
"The NHS leads the way in the ethical recruitment of healthcare professionals, with a strict list of countries from which it does not actively recruit, drawn up with the agreement of the countries involved, which includes much of Africa.
"However, if healthcare professionals are determined to come here to work, we cannot legally deny them that opportunity."
Mr Johnson said: "You don't have to have any recruitment policy at all if it is just a fact that we don't produce the numbers of doctors and nurses that we need, and neither does the US or Australia or Canada.
"People will just come here. You don't have to recruit them. They will come here because salaries are better and conditions are better and we need them."
Verity Lewis, employment relations adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, told Today: "The problem with the steps that have been taken is that they very much rely on the goodwill of individual employers to abide by the code of practice they have set up.
"The code of practice is entirely voluntary. The Government has recently extended it to cover independent sector employers, but that is voluntary too.
"It's not monitored and it's not enforced and the numbers show that independent employers are continuing to go to these countries to recruit nurses."Reuse content