A CHARITY wants to build a £5m new unit to help more families stay close to their children when they are patients at Oxford Children’s Hospital.

Ronald McDonald House, which is based in the children’s hospital next to the John Radcliffe in Headington, welcomed its first families in January 2007.

The facility allows families to stay overnight in the hospital when their children need operations or other treatment.

It has 18 en suite bedrooms, a communal bathroom, a laundry room and two fully equipped kitchens and communal lounges.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust said preliminary talks on the proposal have begun but nothing has yet been agreed.

Anne Ward, head of UK operations for Ronald McDonald House Charities, said: “We have had an 18-bedroom facility on the top floor of the children’s hospital since it opened, but it is not big enough to meet the demand from families who want to stay overnight with their children.

“We could fill each room now twice over with the number of families we know about.

“It’s very early days but we want to build a 40-bedroom house on the John Radcliffe Hospital site and our experience elsewhere tells us that it will cost about £5m to build Then there will be running costs of about £350,000 a year.

“We need to raise the money before we can move to the next stage, and I would like to see a facility built in the next few years.”

Ms Ward said fundraising would not begin until the scheme has been agreed with hospital trust bosses.

Father-of-three Andy Boon, from Milton, near Didcot, and wife Alice, spent 11 weeks at their son Archie’s bedside after he was born in 2008 with life-threatening congenital heart defects. Archie has now started pre-school.

Mr Boon, 39, recently appointed to Ronald McDonald House board of governors, said: “You don’t know how important a place like this is until you go through this yourself.

“We were helped hugely by Ronald McDonald House because there is no room for families to stay in intensive care.

“A 40-bedroom facility would be fantastic and if I have anything to do with it, it will definitely happen. Kids do not want to hear that they are about to have a life-changing operation and that their parents are not allowed to stay.”

Last year, Ronald McDonald House in Oxford helped 644 families, across 798 stays.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust spokesman Richard Maynard said: “We would be delighted to work with them. But there is no agreement in place, no planning permission has been given, and no site has been chosen for a building.”

For details, visit rmhc.org.uk