Q&A: Meet the AOP’s new director of policy

OT  hears from Carolyn Ruston, who joined the AOP in January, about her career journey through the NHS, the changes ahead for optometry, and what eye health means to her

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Getty/Eichinger Julien

How would you describe your career journey so far?

I have worked in the NHS for over 15 years. However, my career originally began in information science, as a librarian in academic and public libraries. I love working in healthcare and the opportunity to be part of something that impacts positively on people’s lives.

Could you tell us a bit about your previous roles?

The AOP’s new director of policy, Carolyn Ruston
I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing people in a number of different roles. Before moving to the AOP I was strategic lead for health and life sciences at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which is part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

My role was to help develop the health and life sciences strategy for the lab, aimed at addressing some of the main health challenges facing the UK and aid the growth of the life sciences sector to support the UK economy. I also worked closely with the nuclear medicine, MRI and ultrasound teams leading a number of pre-clinical research programmes. I was senior responsible owner for much of the lab’s COVID-19 emergency response work to support the UK system and beyond during the height of the pandemic.

Prior to this, I was programme director for diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic medicine at King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre. There, I led the establishment of a clinical and academic institute to help drive improvement in diabetes treatment and prevention through the innovative use of data and technology, and by achieving a parity of esteem between a person’s mental and physical health – something that is really vital in patients with diabetes or diabetes-related conditions.

I have also been head of policy to the London Health Board – chaired by the then-Mayor of London, Boris Johnson – and head of stakeholder relations and primary care liaison at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

The London Health Board role involved working with NHS England, Public Health England, the Greater London Authority, London Councils, and the London Health Commission. At King’s, I developed the trusts’ engagement strategy and represented it at local overview and scrutiny committees, healthwatch meetings, and other bodies where the trust was held to account.

I love working in healthcare and the opportunity to be part of something that impacts positively on people’s lives


What has been a stand-out moment in your career so far?

There have been many career highlights, but I think the work we did at NPL in response to the COVID-19 pandemic really stands out. From working with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on the development of new continuous positive airway pressure machines and mechanical ventilators, to working with colleagues at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to develop a prototype ‘proning board’ to help clinicians prone and de-prone critically ill patients in intensive care. I had the opportunity to work with haematology clinicians as part of a global research project to better understand peripheral lung thrombosis in COVID-19 positive patients, and also helped staff to optimise their cancer clinical care pathways to enable backlogs to be managed.

What motivated you to join the AOP?

This is a really exciting time for the profession but there are many challenges ahead. I wanted to join the AOP at a time where I could work with our members and partners to ensure that we help shape the profession so that it is appropriately funded and we can continue to grow and deliver the best possible clinical care for our patients.

Having the patient at the forefront of our thinking should always be the priority


What have you learnt from your previous experiences that you intend to carry across into your policy work at the AOP?

For me, it is important to think about the outcome or impact you want to have by developing a particular piece of policy and managing a specific programme. Having the patient at the forefront of our thinking should always be the priority. I am a strong advocate for co-production and collaboration where possible. I am looking forward to working with sector partners and our members to grow and sustain the future of optometry, especially in the context of imminent health reforms that will have impact on the commissioning and delivery of primary care.

What does eye health, and eye care, mean for you?

Eye health and eye care is very important to me and my family. My partner has a genetic sight loss condition called retinitis pigmentosa and other family members have had cataract and other eye conditions. I am a spectacle wearer myself, so accessibility to community-based eye care for both diagnosis and continuing care is something I am very passionate about.

What are you most excited about for the year ahead in your new role?

As we know, health reform and the formation of Integrated Care Systems present some exciting but challenging opportunities in optometry. I am looking forward to working with members and the sector to shape the future of optometry, and how we work with colleagues to alleviate backlogs in secondary care and improve health outcomes for our local communities.

Outside of work, what do you like to spend your time on?

I live on the Kent coast, so love taking my partner’s guide dog for long runs on the beach at the weekend and as a keen walker, I am currently trying to complete the South East part of the England Coastal path. I love football too, and am a season ticket holder at Tottenham Hostspur FC. I love food and cooking (even though I’m not very good at it).