The system was put in place in a bid to make the NHS go paperless by 2018 Getty

The new NHS online system for hospital appointment and bookings has experienced severe difficulties just two days after it was launched.

The NHS e-Referral service, which replaced the £356m Choose and Book system first introduced in 2004, was set up as part of an initiative to provide a paperless NHS system by 2018.

The service was launched on 15 June despite the Health and Social Care Information Services (HSCIC) admitting there were 33 unresolved issues with the system, including slow loading times and display issues.

Despite the HSCIC saying it did not anticipate that any of these issues would "pose a clinical safety risk, cause any detriment to patient care or prevent users from carrying out essential tasks", the service went offline after experiencing "technical difficulties".

A statement on the HSCIC website said: "HSCIC are completing the final stage of testing a number of fixes to the NHS e-Referrals Service. It is hoped that the service will be available again later today."

The service became available again after several hours, with the HSCIC apologising for the disruption that was caused during the outage.

Michael Allen, spokesperson from software analytics tool Dynatrace said: "The NHS England e-Referral system is already suffering from 'technical problems' just two days after being launched – even the service status page isn't working.

"The HSCIC, which runs the system, had already flagged that there were over 30 existing problems with the service – this begs the question, why did the launch go ahead? It is much more expensive to fix application problems in the field, rather than in the testing environment – not to mention creating more frustration for customers and embarrassment for the organisations responsible.

"I'm not sure why the public has been used as guinea pigs in this instance, but ensuring that applications – particularly those that will be used by the public – are thoroughly tested and debugged, with any issues ironed out before launch, is just common sense. Shame it wasn't followed in this instance."

The new e-Referral service was originally scheduled to launch in November 2014 but it was delayed after it failed a series of criteria during an assessment by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and was told to carry out "significant additional work to demonstrate compliance with the required standards".