The number of flu deaths in Scotland trebled during the recent winter blast, official figures have revealed.
The virus claimed 331 lives in the first three months of 2018 as the country was battered by the so-called Beast from the East.
It compares with just 72 deaths in the first three months of 2017 and 57 the year before.
Scotland’s death rate reached a 32-year high with a rise fatalities linked to the ageing population including Alzheimer’s and Dementia, figures from the National Records of Scotland showed.
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said the rise in winter deaths was “deeply troubling”.
“Clearly Scotland suffered difficult weather over the winter period, including the so-called Beast from the East,” he said.
“But the reality is the SNP’s failure to properly tackle fuel poverty, provide warm homes and its mismanagement of NHS services are hurting older people and the most vulnerable.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said mortality rates can fluctuate from year to year.
“Last winter saw the highest rates of flu-like illness since 2010/11 and while in many cases of winter mortality influenza will not be the main cause of death, it can aggravate underlying long-term conditions,” she added.
“Every year, Health Protection Scotland works with international partners to understand the impact of flu and we will consider its report later this year.”
Deaths outstripped births by 7,600 in the year to the end of March - this is up by more than 5,000 on the same time last year, according to the figures released yesterday.
The rise is being driven by more age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Anne Slater, the Acting Registrar General for Scotland, said: “Over the longer term, deaths from coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease have decreased considerably whilst the number of deaths from cancer and respiratory disease has risen slightly.
“There has been a relatively large increase in the number of deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with such deaths now accounting for more than 10 per cent of all deaths compared to 5 per cent a decade ago.”
The 12,713 births recorded in Scotland in the first quarter of 2018 was the lowest since 2003, while the 17,771 deaths was more than 2,000 up on last year and the highest since 1986.
There were 52,322 babies born in Scotland in the year to the end of March, compared with 59,943 deaths over the same period.
The number of deaths from dementia rose by 15 per cent to 1,416 in the first three months of the year, compared with 2017.