The ministry said rescuers were able to save 40 patients and medical staff, while firefighters took hours to put out the  blaze, which spread out over an area of almost 650 square metres.

Karim Masimov, the Kazakh prime minister, has called for the creation of a commission to investigate the cause of the fire, according to a statement on the government's main web portal.

"The country's prime minister has entrusted the commission with carefully investigating the cause of this tragedy, and taking exhaustive measures to render assistance to the victims," it said.

High-level panel

The high-level commission will be led by Serik Akhmedov, the vice-prime minister, the statement said.

Deadly fires are common in the former Soviet Union, with  retirement homes and other state-run facilities particularly prone to such accidents.

In 2006, 45 women were killed when a fire erupted at a drugs treatment clinic in Moscow.

The women had been trapped behind locked doors and barred windows during the inferno.