A hypodermic syringe and a good bedside manner were all that Valerie Cook needed to persuade patients that she was a bona fide nurse.

For 15 years she dispensed pills and gave injections in at least five GP surgeries to more than 1,000 patients. She won praise for her work and accolades from her patients but she had never passed a nursing exam.

Yesterday, the 57-year-old imposter from south London was given a nine month suspended jail sentence after her deception was discovered earlier this year.

The prosecution described her as a fraud and a charlatan after she had pleaded guilty and appeared for sentencing at Kingston Crown Court. But the defence said that she had been professional throughout her career and that her work was never questioned.

Cook attended two nursing courses in the 1960s but left both within months to care for her sick parents, both of whom are now dead, the court heard.

She worked for a series of GPs in the London area, performing 700 vaccinations and 300 cervical smear tests and stitching wounds, before applying for a managerial post with Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust.

At interview, she claimed that she was a registered nurse and produced a nursing cardwhich later turned out to be forged. Her performance was impressive and she appeared "head and shoulders above the rest of the applicants", the court was told. But standard checks revealed that she was not a registered as a nurse.

The judge said that it was a "sophisticated deception" that deserved a custodial sentence. But he accepted that there were exceptional circumstances and suspended the sentence for 12 months. The NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service said that it hoped the sentence would deter others.