AN office worker who cheated her healthcare employers out of £46,348 has been spared jail.

Benenden HealthCare did not realise what Sally Harris, 51, had done until after she had left their employment and they installed a new antifraud accounting system, said Rob Galley, prosecuting.

The society’s suspicions were aroused after discovering members in their eighties were unusually using emails to communicate with the society, and their individual claims were being handled entirely by Harris throughout their processing.

Their investigation discovered she had used her non-managerial position in the member services department to use the accounts of 23 members for 82 transactions involving false claims for health care treatment, then channelled the money into her own bank accounts.

She had also reactivated a claim from the 1960s so she could get back payments. She told police she had £60,000 debts.

The society provides health insurance for a million people.

Harris, of Park Street, off The Mount, pleaded guilty to fraud in breach of trust and was given an 18-month prison sentence suspended for two years on condition she does two years’ supervision and 150 hours’ unpaid work.

York Crown Court heard she will repay the money from her pension fund and that she had had cancer and mental health problems.

Recorder Amanda Rippon told her: “It is likely your judgement was impaired by (your) bi-polar disorder into making impulsive purchases. Other people have surgery as you have had, other people suffer from bi-polar disorder, but they don’t go on to steal £50,000 from their employers.

“These are not excuses, they are reasons (why the fraud was committed)”.

Harris’ solicitor advocate Kevin Blount said she had bought lots of low-value items on credit cards and thereby accumulated large high-interest debts.

When she could not get credit cards, she had turned to payday loan companies who charged high interest, and she had been unable to meet the repayments.

She had hidden her problems from her family and not sought the help she could have had.

She was remorseful for her action and had herself brought the fraud to an end when she had deliberately changed jobs to one where she did not have access to money.