Italy's government has announced that family doctors will soon carry out testing at surgeries, rather than referring patients by phone to specialist testing centres as is currently the case.
READ ALSO: How to get a coronavirus test in Italy
While the new rules would oblige every GP in the country to carry out the tests, unions say not all surgeries have the capacity to do them safely.
While the government has set aside 30 million euros for the testing scheme, unions argue that this amount wouldn't fund enough tests to make a real difference to contagion rates, and that participation in the scheme should not be mandatory as it could put family doctors and other patients in danger.
As well as more personal protective equipment and increased sanitation, surgeries would need separate rooms and entrances for patients with Covid-19 symptoms, unions point out.
A doctor enters a changing room set aside for putting on and removing PPE equipment at a hospital in Milan. Photo: AFP
National secretary of the Italian doctors union (SMI) Pina Onotri said the plan would “affect the safety of doctors' offices and citizens.”
In a statement to local media, she explained that the union did not agree to the plan because “to give this obligation at this moment to a group of professionals already suffering seemed ungenerous to us.”
“We believe that it is important for family doctors to conduct rapid tests voluntarily.”
Regional doctors' unions also refused to agree to the plan, with the head of Abruzzo's doctors union, Michele Di Paolantonio, saying it risked causing an “epidemic explosion”.
“The doctors' offices are cramped and limited, and often located inside residential condominiums where someone could become infected,” he told local media.
“There are many frail and elderly doctors among us and this could represent a serious problem.”
Doctors and other healthcare workers have been at high risk of contracting the coronavirus. A list kept by Italian doctors' unions states that 183 doctors have so far died in Italy after being infected with Covid-19 .
If testing does become available at doctors' surgeries in Italy it may not be for some time yet, as ministers and unions continue discussions.
Until now, the government has only authorized certain healthcare facilities in Italy to carry out swab tests. You can't currently get tested at your local doctor's surgery, nor every private lab, due to protocols intended to keep regional heath authorities immediately informed of every new positive case.
The testing procedure varies according to your reasons for getting a test, and where you are in Italy. Check your local health authority's website for details of the process where you are, and if in doubt, ask a doctor.
If you suspect you may have Covid-19, do not go to a doctor or hospital: call your GP, your region's dedicated coronavirus helpline (full list here), or the nationwide 1500 number for assistance.