A fire has swept through a hospital in southern Taiwan, killing at least 12 people and leaving 60 others injured, health authorities say.

Tuesday's blaze started in the early hours at Sinying Hospital's nursing facility housing mainly bed-bound senior patients in the southern city of Tainan, health officials said.

Tsai Ming-shih, who works for Sinying Hospital, said the 12 patients, who were housed on the second floor, died of smoke inhalation.

A fire official told reporters that the blaze possibly started in a storage room of the five-floor building, part of the Sinying Hospital.

More than 100 patients were evacuated during the incident, a local health official said.

An earlier estimate by an official had placed the number of injured at 72, but this was revised down in a health department statement.

TVBS cable news channel reported that relatives of the patients rushed to the hospital seeking their whereabouts as health minister Chiu Wen-ta assured the public that the authorities would identify the patients as soon as possible.

Television footage showed bed and wheelchair-bound patients being carried out from the burnt-out second floor to the hospital's lawn.

It was the worst hospital fire in recent years and the cause of the fire is under investigation, officials said.

Sean Chen, the Taiwanese prime minister, expressed his shock at the incident and sent his condolences to the families of the victims, his office said in a statement.

Source: Agencies