Summary. To assess the impact of the French national hepatitis C prevention programme initiated in 1999, we analysed trends in hepatitis C virus (HCV) prevalence, testing and characteristics of HCV-infected patient at first referral from 1994 to 2006. We used four data sources: Two national population-based sero-prevalence surveys carried out in 1994 and 2004; two surveillance networks, one based on public and private laboratories throughout France and the other on hepatology reference centres, which aim to monitor, respectively, trends of anti-HCV screening and of epidemiological–clinical characteristics of HCV patients at first referral.Between 1994 and 2004, the anti-HCV prevalence for adults aged 20–59 years decreased from 1.05 (95% confidence interval 0.75–1.34) to 0.71 (0.52–0.97). During the same period, those anti-HCV positive with detectable HCV RNA decreased from 81 to 57%, whereas, the proportion of anti-HCV positive persons aware of their status evolved from 24 to 56%. Anti-HCV screening activity increased by 45% from 2000 to 2005, but decreased in 2006 (−10%), while HCV positivity among those tested decreased from 4.3 to 2.9%. The proportion of cirrhosis at first referral remains around 10% between 2001 and 2006, with many patients with excessive alcohol consumption (34.7% among males) or viral co-infections (HIV seropositivity for 5.2% patients). Our analysis indicates that the national programme had a positive impact at the population level through improved prevention, screening and management. There is still a need to identify timely those at risk for earlier interventions, to assess co-morbidities better and for a multidisciplinary approach to HCV management.