A protest was held outside a company which conducts controversial medical assessments to help determine whether benefits claimants are fit to work.

Demonstrators gathered at the offices of Atos in Grosvenor Court, Chester, the private company hired by the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out the appraisals.

Disability campaigners have described the work tests as “ridiculously harsh and extremely unfair”.

Similar rallies took place at 144 locations across the country, with many calling for the DWP to terminate Atos’s £500m contract.

Organiser Richard Atkinson, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said: “They assess whether someone is entitled to sickness benefits using a scoring system that ignores all the real difficulties disabled people face, ignores what they and their doctor say, and scores them simply on whether they can perform tasks like pressing a button occasionally.

“As a result people who have lost both legs, people with cancer and people with severe mental illness have been found ‘fit for work’.”

He added: “We call for a system that provides real support for people who are or become, sick or disabled, in or out of work.”

An Atos Healthcare spokesman said: “We absolutely respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we are well aware that being assessed for benefit entitlement can be a difficult experience.

“However, lobbying against Atos Healthcare will have no impact on welfare policy. It is not, nor has it ever been, the role of Atos Healthcare to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits.

“We carry out assessments following strict guidelines and criteria written by Government.”