A spike in slips and falls due to freezing conditions risks overwhelming some hospital emergency departments and placing an increasing number of people at “significant” risk of catching Covid-19, it has been warned.

Health boards across Scotland are urging people to take extra care when out and about and to stay at home where possible to help relieve pressure on the NHS.

The public are also being asked to call 111 for advice before attending A&E with non life-threatening injuries.

It comes as the Met Office has issued ice weather warnings for large parts of Scotland today, with forecasters predicting that the low temperatures will continue over the coming weeks.

Leading surgeons have also warned that hospitals “do not have the capacity” to cope with a large number of accidents as a result of ice and snow.

The medics have called for more roads and pavements to be gritted to help prevent slips and falls as it deals with the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The Scottish Ambulance Service said yesterday that it was “experiencing very high levels of demand”.

It urged people to “be careful if outside and please only call 999 in an emergency”.

Meanwhile, several health boards posted pleas online urging caution.

NHS Grampian posted on Twitter: “We are seeing an increasing number of people attending our Emergency Departments following slips, trips, and falls on icy pavements. We want to encourage everyone to stay safe and avoid these injuries.

“The simplest way to do this is to be mindful of the current conditions and stay at home where possible. Weather warnings remain in place across Grampian today and tomorrow so ice continues to pose a real risk.”

NHS Lanarkshire urged people to “take care out there”, adding: “If you slip and take a tumble, please remember to phone 111 before attending A&E with any non life-threatening minor injuries.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde urged people to stay at home until conditions improve, while Dr Neil Dignon, an emergency department consultant at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, tweeted that 75% of patients in the hospital’s A&E yesterday “took a flier” on the ice.

Meanwhile, Dr John Thomson, vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Scotland, has warned that hospitals “do not have the capacity” to cope with a large number of falls or accidents as a result of ice and snow.

Speaking to The Times, he said: “If we see a big freeze and a number of fractures associated with the weather, we do not have the capacity to safely manage those patients.

“The risk of catching Covid just by being in hospital waiting is significant. If you are elderly and require surgery, your mortality is significantly increased.”

Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said the icy conditions could be “treacherous” and encouraged people to come to the aid of those most vulnerable in running errands for them to reduce the risk.

“We need to be thinking about those people who are on their own and preventing the risks from them going out and breaking their hip and catching Covid,” he said.

“At least ring them up and see what you can do. It is down to the councils to make absolutely certain that the roads are gritted and the pavements are gritted.”

Met Office forecasters say they have observed a sudden stratospheric warming, which is associated with very cold weather.

Sudden stratospheric warming in 2018 brought the heavy snow termed the Beast from the East; however, meteorologists said the event is more likely to bring more cold weather without heavy snow, though it is difficult to predict.

Met Office spokeswoman Nicola Maxey said the warming takes at least 10 days to move down into our atmosphere.

She added: “The feeling at the moment is that we may see some colder weather towards the end of January into February, but probably the sort of weather that we’re seeing at the moment, as opposed to what is popularly perceived as a Beast from the East.”