Hundreds of Scots were admitted to hospital suffering from hypothermia during December's bitterly cold weather, figures show, as households faced spiraling energy bills.

The first couple of weeks was the coldest in nearly a decade as parts of the UK battled heavy snow, ice and freezing winds and temperatures plunged as low as -10 in the north of Scotland.

Scottish Ambulance Service data obtained by The Herald shows that from December 1-18 almost 800 people - 44 a day - were taken to hospital with hypothermia, defined as a temperature of less than 35C. 

It can be a medical emergency and elderly people are most at risk.

Responding to the figures, Citizens Advice Scotland said it had been warning for some time that "health would inevitably suffer" if people were forced to cut back on heating in severe weather.

The Herald:

Some 1.5m Scots households saw their energy bills rise last April after Ofgem hiked the dual fuel bills price cap by the biggest increase yet. From April 1, three in four customers on default tariffs paying by direct debit saw an increase of £693 from £1,277 to £1971.

All households were given a £400 discount by the UK Government, administered by energy suppliers that is paid in installments but campaigners urged both Westminster and Holyrood to do more to help the most vulnerable households. 

READ MORE: SNP warned thousands may be worse off under new winter heating scheme

Hypothermia can be caused by prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures when the body begins to lose heat faster than it's produced.

Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body's stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.

The Herald:

Normal body temperature is around 37C (98.6F).

The figures show that 799 people were taken to hospital from December 1 to 18 who recorded a temperature of less than 35C.

The highest number of admissions was in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde with 170 taken to hospital in just over two weeks during the cold snap.

Lothian was next with 121 people admitted, followed by Grampian (80) which experienced some of the UK's coldest temperatures.

The Herald:

December 12 was the coldest day in the UK since December 2010 with a highest recorded temperature in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, of -9.3C (15.2F) - the lowest recorded maximum temperature for 12 years.

READ MORE: Outrage as UK treasury rakes in £8.4bn with energy tax as fuel poverty soars

In Lanarkshire 76 people were taken to hospital with a low temperature with 74 admitted from Ayrshire and Arran.

The lowest number of admissions was in Orkney and Shetland where there were less than five and the Western Isles (7).

While no figures were available to compare this year's cases with 2021, an emergency medicine source said it was "not common" to see cases of hypothermia in hospital, particularly if it is the primary diagnosis.

Of the 799 patients, 25 had a diagnosis of heat/cold exposure recorded on their record.

A recent survey by Age UK Scotland found 62% of older people had cut back on heating to make ends meet.

The Herald:

Dr Susan Shenkin, Consultant in Medicine of the Elderly for NHS Lothian and a reader in ageing and health at the University of Edinburgh said this is of concern.

She said; “Older people are at higher risk of hypothermia because as we age our bodies’ ability to regulate its temperature is reduced: when we get cold our bodies should decrease blood flow to the skin (to reduce heat loss) and increase internal heat production (by shivering). These mechanisms are less effective as we age. 

“As well as these factors, aspects of behaviour can make older people more at risk of hypothermia.

“Temperatures as low as 16 degrees will put someone at risk of hypothermia.

“Concerns about bills may affect the use of heating, and perhaps also hot foot and regular hot drinks. 

“People may be keeping one room warm, but other rooms in the house may be cold.

She added: “If an older person falls, they can lie for a long time (if they don’t have a way to call for help, a community alarm or a phone in reach), and lying on the floor for a long time in an unheated room (or falling outside in the cold) can be associated with coming to hospital with hypothermia.” 

Citizens Advice Scotland policy manager Stephanie Millar said: “We are very concerned about the impact of these high energy bills and have been warning for some time that some people will be unable to keep their heating on and their health will inevitably suffer in severe cold weather. 

“The extra money made available by the UK government is welcome but the fact is that it’s simply not enough, particularly as many of the most vulnerable households – those with pre-payment meters - are having problems accessing it.”

Simon Community Scotland, which supports homeless people said Glasgow City Council had ensured that accommodation was available to everyone during the cold snap, “including those with no resource to public funds.”.

Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, pale, cold and dry skin, slurred speech, slow breathing tiredness or confusion

Advice while waiting for emergency assistance includes wrapping the person in a blanket, sleeping bag or dry towel, making sure their head is covered and keeping the person awake by talking to them until help arrives.

You should not use a hot bath, hot water bottle or heat lamp to warm them up, rub their arms, legs, feet or hands or give them an alcoholic drink..

Hospital treatment may involve the patients being given warm fluids straight into a vein but intensive care may be needed for severe hypothermia.

There were an estimated 8,500 deaths due to cold homes in the winter of 2019-20, according to analysis by the charity National Energy Action.