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Working together to prevent diabetes in western Sydney

It started with a simple idea: taking a blood test from everyone who showed up at emergency departments at Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospitals in western Sydney.

Doctors at hospitals in the area were frustrated by how frequently they were treating people suffering from Type 2 diabetes – a preventable disease – but they needed a catalyst for action.

The results of the blood tests were startling. They showed a much higher proportion of people at risk of developing diabetes than was originally thought.

People living in Sydney’s western suburbs are twice as likely to develop diabetes compared to people living in the city’s eastern or northern suburb. And 30% of the western Sydney population is at high risk of developing diabetes in the future.

Female runner

Type 2 diabetes is the fastest-growing chronic disease globally. It’s more prevalent in suburbs with lower socio-economic status, where access to affordable healthy food and exercise-friendly public infrastructure like bike paths is harder to come by, as well as amongst communities of people with a Pacific Island, Indian subcontinent, Chinese or South East Asian background.

But it’s also a problem that affects everyone due to the cost of managing the disease. It’s estimated that the societal cost of managing diabetes and its complications in Australia will rise to more than $50 billion a year by 2051 if we don’t change course.

A co-ordinated response

Dr Glen Maberly is the driving force behind Western Sydney Diabetes (WSD). With expertise in public health and decades of experience as an endocrinologist, Dr Maberly knows all too well what it will take to turn the tide in western Sydney, where more than 60% of people are estimated to be overweight.

Quite simply, if those at risk of diabetes could lose just two kilograms on average, their chances of developing the condition will be much lower.

However, he also knows the problem cannot be solved by the health system alone. A coordinated response is needed.

That’s what drove the five partners of WSD – Western Sydney Local Health District, Public Health Network, Diabetes NSW & ACT, PwC and the Department of Premier and Cabinet – to establish the WSD alliance. In the space of seven years, WSD has grown into a comprehensive network of stakeholders determined to take on the epidemic.

The alliance currently has more than 120 member groups, taking in everything from government departments to major food retailers and health bodies.

“It's vital that we have an organisation like PwC behind what we do. They help us shine the light on what the real problem is. Without that nothing would happen.”

Dr Glen Maberley, Senior Endocrinologist and Director, Western Sydney Diabetes

PwC: facilitating partnerships

After initially coming on board as a consultant, PwC has emerged as one of the lead partners in WSD and, according to Dr Maberly, has played a crucial role in helping to establish new partnerships.

“It's vital that we have an organisation like PwC behind what we do,” he says. “They help us shine the light on what the real problem is. Without that nothing would happen.”

PwC partner Nathan Schlesinger says a key part of PwC’s role has been to ensure different organisations, as well as decision makers in government, have access to the right data.

PwC has helped WSD pull together data from government and other areas and present it in useful ways to stakeholders.

“One area in which we are contributing is population health data surveillance,” Mr Schlesinger says. “Can we make sure we are using the right data from the right sources to know and understand how much of an issue this is and actually monitor whether we are achieving what we need to?

“We’re a convenor, essentially, both in terms of data and getting people together.”

  • 4-7%

    Proportion of Australians with diabetes.

  • 15%

    Proportion of western Sydney adults with diabetes. That’s 72,000 people.

  • 35%

    Proportion of western Sydney population at high risk of diabetes, with pre-diabetes or high

  • 60%

    Proportion of western Sydney population who are overweight.


The cost of prevention compared to the cost of treatment

Recognising that the diabetes epidemic extends beyond western Sydney, WSD has been reaching out to health bodies in other hotspots, including Brisbane’s southern suburbs and Melbourne’s west, to work towards a broader response to the disease.

“We've identified other jurisdictions that have similar problems and they're looking at the way we're approaching this,” Dr Maberly says.

Dr Maberly says an investment of around $30 million a year, split between primary and secondary prevention, would help turn the tide in western Sydney. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to the total cost of managing diabetes and its complications.

“We think with a modest and moderate investment, we could really make a difference,” he says.

“Rather than relying solely on government funding, we're also trying to get the private sector engaged.”

Contact us

Nathan Schlesinger

National Health & Wellbeing Leader, NSW, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 409 984 935

Emily Prior

Partner, National Health Analytics Leader, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 437 777 974

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