Up to 300 jobs were today under threat at one of Eastbourne's largest and longest-established employers.

The Dental Practice Board in Compton Place Road, Old Town, faces abolition under a Government shake-up of the NHS.

DPB staff are responsible for monitoring and processing claims for payments from NHS dentists.

The Government is planning a radical overhaul of the system, leading to dentists being paid a salary rather than for individual treatments.

It means the workload of staff will be drastically cut, making much of the 300-strong workforce redundant.

It is possible a new authority will be set up in the DPB's place and staff may be relocated.

Details of the possible closure and setting-up of the new organisation are subject to a Bill which has yet to pass through Parliament.

Should the plans be approved, the DPB will be scrapped by 2005.

The DPB has been based in the town since 1946 and grew to become Eastbourne's largest employer when it had 2,000 people working in the resort during the 1980s.

But staff numbers steadily declined to today's 300.

DPB officials today said they were not expecting wholesale redundancies as a result of the shake-up but hoped to shed numbers naturally through reduced recruitment and early retirement.

A DPB spokesman said today: "The changes are anticipated to take place in 2005.

"If the proposed changes take place, work directly involved with items of service processing will cease.

"We have moved employment from 2,000 to 360 - 300 in Eastbourne and 60 dentists across England and Wales - without the need for compulsory redundancy.

"We will continue with our policy to do everything we can to avoid compulsory redundancy.

"The DPB is fortunate to have a loyal workforce.

"Our average length of service per employee is 16 years.

"In the 1980s, we directly employed 2000 people in Eastbourne and many others indirectly. Now we directly employ 300 and some others indirectly connected to our IT and data processing services."