The health department also warned UK employers considering hiring nurses or midwives from in Eastern Europe, Africa or Asia that they must first obtain permission from the NHS Executive.
The new moral hard-line is set out in guidance issued by the Health Department yesterday. The guidance says many countries in the named continents are experiencing "significant nursing shortages of their own" and the NHS must not add to them. Some countries, such as the Philippines, had a surplus of nurses and recruitment would continue to be allowed from them.
Earlier this year, former Health Secretary Frank Dobson described the trade in nurses as an "international disgrace". He said developed countries "talk about how much medical aid and assistance they are giving to the Third World and all over the developing world we are taking nurses and doctors away from them".
In five years the number of foreign nurses applying to the professional register has doubled to almost 5,000 in 1998-99. There are said to be up to 3,600 nurses and midwives from countries outside the EU, including the Philippines, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
Government figures show there are 15,000 nurse vacancies out of a workforce of 300,000. A recruitment campaign launched nine months ago brought 2,000 qualified nurses and midwives back to the NHS and another 2,000 are on refresher courses. Applications to study nursing are up 90 per cent on the 1998 total.Reuse content