A former head of financial accounting at two NHS bodies in East Sussex has been sentenced to five years and four months in prison after being found guilty of defrauding the health service out of £2.2m.

Trevor Barry Cosson, who embezzled the money from Hastings and Rother Primary Care Trust and East Sussex Downs and Weald Primary Care Trust, used the proceeds of his crimes to fund the purchase of 11 properties in East Sussex and London.

An investigation by NHS Protect, the health service’s anti-fraud body, found that the 38-year-old had manipulated the trusts’ internal payments systems.

While standing orders were set up in the names of regular suppliers, payments were diverted to bank accounts controlled by Mr Cosson, of East Sussex.

Between 2008 and 2011 he authorised £810,000 worth of standing order payments and £1.4m of payments between 2011 and 2012 via an internal payments system.

The fraud was discovered after the PCTs for which Mr Cosson had worked were restructured and the Sussex and Surrey Commissioning Support Unit was formed.

An end-of-year audit carried out by the new body revealed the suspicious payments.

The matter was then referred to NHS Protect for investigation.

Sue Frith, head of the national investigation service at NHS Protect said: “Mr Cosson’s dishonesty resulted in the theft of over £2m from two local health bodies.

“He abused his position of trust so that he could live a lifestyle that he could not afford. Stealing from the NHS is not a victimless crime as this money could have been used to provide healthcare locally.

“The sentence reflects the seriousness of Cosson’s crime and will act as a deterrent to others.”