A hospital support worker from Coventry was said to have been driven by her domineering husband to submit false claims for more than 200 shifts she had not worked.
And by the time Harbans Dhaliwal’s dishonesty came to light, she had stolen enough to pay a staff nurse’s wages for a year and five months, a judge has heard.
She had originally pleaded not guilty at Warwick Crown Court to fraud by repeatedly submitting false claims to the George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust.
But after later changing her plea to guilty, Dhaliwal (54) of Cross Road, Foleshill, Coventry, was sentenced to two years in prison suspended for 12 months.
A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing was adjourned to a later date after the court heard the hospital is taking civil action against both Dhaliwal and her husband to recover almost £50,000.
Prosecutor Siobhan Collins said that as an auxiliary nurse at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, Dhaliwal had to submit time sheets each month for the shifts she had worked.
In January 2016 the time sheet for the previous month, for which she had claimed to have worked five nights a week, was reviewed – and when she was spoken to she said she had made an error in filling it out.
Asked if there had been any others, Dhaliwal said there may have been three months of errors – and an investigation was launched going back to when she had started at the hospital.
It was found Dhaliwal had made claims for shifts which staff knew she had not worked, and she sent an e-mail to her manager saying she had not known what she was doing and asking for help to allow her to pay it back.
The investigation revealed that in total, between April 2014 and December 2015, she had claimed for 242 shifts when in fact she had worked just ten, said Miss Collins.
She had obtained a total of £49,878 which the hospital’s director of finance pointed out was enough to pay a staff nurse’s salary for a year and five months.
Judge Sylvia de Bertodano remarked: “It is extraordinary that it’s so easy for an employee to make such false claims.”
When Dhaliwal was arrested she denied the fraud and told the police she had been confused and thought she had been filling in a sheet saying when she was available to work.
She said she never opened her pay cheques, and they were paid into a joint bank account she had with her husband, who was said to have been abusive and from whom she is now separated, to which she did not have access.
Kathryn Hirst, defending, said that although Dhaliwal now works a few hours a week on low pay in a shop, she is the full-time carer for her mother.
Miss Hirst conceded: “This is a theft from the NHS which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, and which is the system most of us rely on for our health care in this country.”
But she suggested that Dhaliwal was subject to coercion by her husband, although he denies that.
“She talks about being bullied and abused by him. He was in control of her finances,” said Miss Hirst, who told the court of three occasions when it was said Dhaliwal had called the police to make complaints about his behaviour towards her.
“Her husband works as a taxi driver. She is a woman who has been diminished by bullying over the years. He financially controlled her. She says her husband drove her to the hospital and knew full-well the hours she worked.
“It is a particularly sad situation. There’s a suggestion that she had been driven to this by her husband, both figuratively and literally.”
Sentencing Dhaliwal, Judge de Bertodano told her: “Two-and-a-half years ago it became clear that you, for some time, had been claiming for hours you had not worked.
“You had claimed almost £50,000 to which you were not entitled. That money came from the NHS, which is an institution of which British people are rightly proud and very protective.
“It is under threat through policy and through spending crises, so when money is stolen from it, it is a very serious offence indeed.
“But it is quite clear from what I have read that you spent many, many years in an abusive relationship, both physically and emotionally.
“It was your husband who had control of the family finances and of the account into which this money went. I accept you have not benefited personally at all from this offending.
“I have no hesitation in saying you were not the main decision-maker for your family, and I have no difficulty in accepting the basis of plea that you were effectively doing this under direction.”
Deciding against ordered her to do unpaid work, the judge added: “It seems to me that in your particular situation it would be extremely unfair to add to your woes for offending which was clearly not your idea and from which you benefited not at all.”