He urged delegates to learn from mistakes and spread best practice to increase patient safety.
Professor Donaldson said: 'The dream in healthcare is that local learning identifies a risk that could harm patients and then gets the message out not just in the city, not just in the country, but across the whole world.'
He said the NHS had got away from the bad headlines concerning the bad practice of individuals, which compromised the service, and that now safety was not focused on individuals but on whole systems.
'The other thing that challenges us greatly is that the media and public seem to think that things go wrong and kill patients and it can't be stopped,' he said.
The CMO said new technologies were helping increase patient safety and gave the example of tracking technology - used in football to track shots - now being used by Professor Sir Ara Darzi's team at Imperial College to monitor the eye movements of surgeons. He also said that simulated surgery is helping prepare novice surgeons before they actually perform an operation.
Professor Donaldson said that reassessing doctors during their career was a way to drive up quality and that it was something patients and doctors wanted.
He added that harnessing technology and standardising clinical processes would also be important ways of increasing patient safety.