University Hospital of North Staffordshire has been fined £2.5m by commissioners for its continued failure to hit a key accident and emergency target.

The money is being withheld as a contract penalty by the Staffordshire primary care trust cluster on top of an earlier fine of £1m in March.

The £420m turnover trust failed to meet the 95 per cent target for four-hour waits in A&E every week from the start of the financial year up to 8 July.

In the past month one patient was kept on an A&E trolley for 19 hours while two more patients waited for at least 12 hours.

Despite the poor performance at the start of the financial year the trust is now hitting the target, reporting a performance of 97 per cent or more in the last three weeks of July. If the trust can keep its performance above target the cluster could return the money at a later date.

The trust has blamed an “unprecedented” rise in A&E demand which has led to a shortage of bed space. The hospital is currently trying to shrink its acute services.

Last month the trust was forced into a U-turn by the rising demand. It announced 130 beds due to close would be maintained at a cost of £7.7m for at least two years.

The hospital has said the A&E department was seeing an average of 320 people a day since the start of the year – 50 more than in 2011.

Cluster chief executive Graham Urwin said that while patients are “having a poor experience by waiting so long, they are still safe”.

“But every patient who stays a day too long in hospital is put at a higher risk of infection and is denied the chance of independent living,” he said.

“We can impose still more draconian measures if there are no improvements.”

Mark Mould, chief operating officer at the trust, told HSJ: “We know that our emergency centre offers a high quality, safe service for the people of North Staffordshire and beyond.”

He said the whole health system was working together to achieve the four hour target and the flow of patients through wards into the community was being improved.