Double Bay locals skip the COVID-19 testing queue – for a price
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Double Bay locals skip the COVID-19 testing queue – for a price

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A trip to one of Sydney's drive-through testing clinics can be a long experience, with some waiting up to five hours during the city's pre-Christmas testing rush.

But, for those willing to pay for the privilege, the privately run Double Bay Doctors offers a drive-through COVID-19 testing service by appointment, allowing people to avoid the sometimes hours-long queues at the nearest public sites at Bondi Junction, Rose Bay and Bondi Beach.

The Double Bay Doctors paid-for coronavirus test attracts 20 to 30 locals a day.

The Double Bay Doctors paid-for coronavirus test attracts 20 to 30 locals a day.Credit:Christopher Pearce

A drive-through consultation and test at the clinic costs $83.20, but Medicare cardholders can receive a rebate taking that down to $45. Tests are processed by Douglass Hanly Moir and returned within the usual 24 to 48 hours.

The clinic, which is not on the NSW government's list of coronavirus testing centres, is the only coronavirus testing centre in Double Bay and sees about 20 to 30 patients a day.

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On Wednesday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard repeated his statements that "every single COVID test should be free".

The private COVID-19 testing lets people avoid the long queues.

The private COVID-19 testing lets people avoid the long queues. Credit:Christopher Pearce

"If you choose to go to your GP, the GP might give you a referral to a separate pathology clinic but that is something between you and your GP which is not necessary," he said.

"And so every citizen in NSW should know: you don't need to go and get a referral from a GP, you can literally just arrive at a COVID clinic, and have your swab done, and it will cost you absolutely nothing."

Double Bay Doctors directors Daniel Perry and Beatrice Ludowici said their drive-through clinic was more than a testing centre, describing the appointments as "essentially an extension of [their] practice". The fees are [the] same as those charged within the clinic.

The private testing allows people to avoid the long queues in public testing centres.

The private testing allows people to avoid the long queues in public testing centres. Credit:Steven Saphore

"The purpose ... is to provide continued access to primary healthcare for patients with respiratory symptoms who cannot see their regular GP inside a medical centre," they said.

"We are one of the very few by-appointment services available; particularly in a drive-through setting and we find that, during peak testing times, some patients book with us to avoid long wait times at public testing facilities."

Amid messages from the state government that tests must be free, even to people without Medicare cards, some locals say they been caught out by the fees.

Vaucluse resident Jeannine Shainfield said her 20-year-old son, a university student who lost his job during the pandemic, was caught out by the fee when he went for a test earlier this month after seeing signs on the street.

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"If it's a drive-through, you assume it's one of the free COVID tests," she said, adding her son told her he was unaware of any charge until after the test had been conducted.

"The receipt said the fee was for a respiratory check – but he didn't have a respiratory check, they just did a COVID test."

Mr Perry said a respiratory check was only performed if required following a clinical assessment of the patient, but the consultation fee applies if a test occurs.

He added that all appointments are prepaid online. "Our fees are clear and transparent," he said.

Ms Shainfield said she would have sent her son to the free Rose Bay clinic, operated by Laverty Pathology with state funding if she was aware of the fee.

Upon speaking to the clinic, the family received a refund. "But the point is there are unsuspecting people being caught out," Ms Shainfield said.

There are 350 free coronavirus testing clinics across NSW.

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