Union members led a fierce fightback against council plans to tender out health services in a combative council meeting tonight.

Unison and GMB were joined by Labour councillors in two bids to delay the transfer of services treating substance abuse patients and delivering medical equipment to residents’ homes away from existing providers.

In a heated debate, speakers were constantly interrupted by and forced to raise their voices against shouts from the public and committee chairman Councillor Jason Kitcat warned members of the public that he could be forced to clear the public gallery.

Councillors ratified the £15 million alcohol and drug recovery service contract awarded to a private, charity-led partnership led by Surrey charity Cranstoun.

Unison members at the current provider Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust petitioned the council to keep the service they provide within the NHS and protested prior to the meeting at Hove Town Hall.

They have raised concerns about workers’ terms and conditions if they are transferred over.

Councillors reached a deadlock over plans to defer a decision on the Integrated Community Equipment Service with councillors asked to agree to plans for West Sussex County Council to procure an external provider.

Unions were angry that the current staff had not been given an opportunity to draw up their own bid to run the service.

The committee was told by council officers that if an alternative service was not ready to step in by next September, residents would have to stay in hospital for longer because they would not be able to receive deliveries of equipment.

Councillors initially voted for the amendment but council’s monitoring officer Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis warned them that the decision would be “unsafe and unlawful” as it was not certain how the majority partner in the service, Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group, would respond to such an arrangement.

The committee then voted to withdraw this report for a future or emergency policy and resources committee meeting.

The debate over the drug and alcohol services was conducted in a heated manner in the council chamber.

The council had indicated the change of provider was to meet a change in focus to addiction recovery but Labour leader Warren Morgan urged a last-minute deferral to allow the current providers opportunity to show they could meet the new requirements.

He said it was important to keep local NHS services local.

Dr Tom Scanlon, director of public health, said the process had been “rigorous, transparent, open and engagement”.

He said: “I appreciate the passion people feel in this room but we have a situation in Brighton and Hove and we are not tackling substance misuse with enough ambition.

“That is just the fact of the matter.”

Conservative Councillor Geoffrey Theobald said that there had been a long and complex procurement process and he saw no benefit in deferring the decision any further.